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MORRISSEY: Rory McIlroy poses big threat to Tiger Woods with move to Nike

Tigers Woods has long been face Nike golf but Rory McIlroy (above) might be next. | Hong Wu~Getty Images

Tigers Woods has long been the face of Nike golf, but Rory McIlroy (above) might be next. | Hong Wu~Getty Images

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:53PM



Rory McIlroy is a lot of things Tiger Woods isn’t — open, charming, engaging, young, consistently successful and, as far as anyone can tell, not into porn stars.

Besides passing Woods in the world golf rankings, McIlroy is threatening to take away Tiger’s death grip on Nike.

McIlroy and Acushnet Company, owner of Titleist and FootJoy gear, are no longer an item, meaning he is free to move to Nike, where Woods rules golf with an 8-iron for a scepter. Speculation is that a move is exactly what the star from Northern Ireland is poised to make, for as much as $20 million a year.

If he does, you won’t hear Nike talk about McIlroy’s ascent as it relates to Wood’s descent. You won’t hear Nike talk much about Woods’ sordid past, not when he has made — and continues to make — so much money for Phil Knight’s corporation. Hell, Nike stood with serial liar and cash cow Lance Armstrong for so long, it took the Jaws of Life to separate them.

This is strictly about success and appeal, and right now the 23-year-old McIlroy has more of both than the 36-year-old Woods does. Woods’ consistency on the course isn’t even close to what it used to be. If you’re a global company looking to stay relevant, you’re constantly looking for fresh faces. Is there a fresher face than McIlroy’s boyish visage?

Tiger had that at one point, too. Remember the bright smile that disguised the hard-hearted competitor? Now, more often than not, he looks weary.

Woods had been a huge hit with corporate America, which only cared that he was a monster who slayed golf courses and fellow golfers with powerful strokes. But when his life took a tumble after he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant in 2009, admitted to having numerous affairs (including several with porn stars) and checked himself into a sex-addiction clinic, everything changed.

Nike stood by him as other corporate sponsors walked away. But don’t think that the company did so just out of loyalty. He was still bringing in gobs of money despite his troubles on the course, and, more importantly, there would have been no one to fill the void if Nike had cut ties.

Now there is. McIlroy won a major each of the past two years, and four tournaments in 2012 alone.

Nike was painfully slow to cut ties with Armstrong. It took an avalanche of testimony about his use of performance-enhancing drugs to finally get the shoe company to admit that having him around wasn’t in its best interest, sales-wise.

Nike was very much aware of the raging debate about Armstrong’s fitness as a role model, and if it earlier could have found a younger, cleaner version of him in the bike-racing world, it surely would have. That’s how corporate America works.

It helps to explain why McIlroy is such a threat to Woods’ empire. Tiger’s last several years have been a series of scandals and disappointments, and McIlroy’s possible signing with Nike would be a soothing antidote for the company without having to admit that Woods has lost some of his luster. Woods’ reputation pre-fire hydrant was one of elegance and class.

That’s what Nike will have in Rory McIlroy. Elegance, class and victories. And no taint. Yet.



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