Rory McIlroy, Nike ink deal

Updated: January 15, 2013, 5:56 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Music blaring, his image part of a water fountain hologram and with the Grand Mosque as background, Rory McIlroy had his "Hello, world'' moment early Monday as he was officially introduced as a Nike spokesman.

He will be paid handsomely to go with the Swoosh, although a source said it is significantly less than the $200 million that has been widely reported for months as news of McIlroy's association with the company was not a secret for long.

Nike officials announced no terms at the swank Fairmont hotel. A source said the deal is for five years, but it does not include Nike on the golf bag. Starting with this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, all 14 of McIlroy's clubs will bear the Nike logo.

"Nike has always been associated with the best athletes in the world and to join the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, LeBron James … it's a proud moment for me and something I've been looking forward to,'' he said.

Nike president Cindy Davis called it "one of the most important moments in the history of Nike golf,'' and undoubtedly the financial commitment would make it so.

In 1996, Nike committed millions to Woods, who upon turning pro and signing a deal with Nike famously said "Hello, world,'' at a Milwaukee news conference where he was to play his first event.

At the time, Nike had no golf clubs on the market.

In that sense, McIlroy has the advantage of seeing a track record with the company. He will play the new Nike VR_S Covert driver, the first cavity-backed driver. He will play the 20XI X golf ball, one that has a firm cover and spins less and which he said in testing allowed him to hit the ball better into the wind.

McIlory said he spent considerable time at Nike's testing facility known as "The Oven'' in Fort Worth, Texas. "It's been a relatively easy process,'' said McIlroy, who had used Titleist products since turning pro in 2009. "I feel like I've transitioned seamlessly from one thing to another. I'm really comfortable with all of the clubs. I'm getting more distance out of the driver and the ball. I'm comfortable with the irons, everything has fallen into place. I'm excited to put the clubs in play.''

Of course, McIlroy was doing just fine with the Titleist clubs he has used. Last year he won five times worldwide, including his second major title at the PGA Championship. He topped the money list on both the PGA and European tours. And he enters the Abu Dhabi event with a sizable lead in the world rankings.

As part of the presentation, McIlroy was "welcomed'' to the Nike family in video tributes from Manchester United soccer player Wayne Rooney, Federer and Woods.

And a commercial that will star McIlroy and Woods that will first air Wednesday was unveiled. In the spot, the two are trying to outdo each other on the driving range, with plenty of barbs going back and forth.

McIlroy: "I'm just trying to keep up with the old guy.''

Woods: "Is that your real hair?''

Almost on cue, Woods, 37, moved back into the No. 2 spot in the world behind McIlroy on Monday.

And they expected to be grouped together for the first two rounds of the Abu Dhabi tournament starting Thursday.

"Now I can focus on playing golf,'' McIlroy said.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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