Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, currently ranked #1 and #2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, each the recipients of big endorsement checks from their sponsor, Nike Golf, as well as hefty appearance fees just for showing up to play in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, raised eyebrows in the Nike boardroom and elsewhere this week when both played like weekend duffers coming back from a long winter off, and missed the cut.
McIlroy, who was being watched very carefully by the golf world as he played his first tournament since ditching all of his existing sponsors – Titleist, Oakley, etc. – for a multi-million dollar head-to-toe equipment deal with Nike, missed the cut (by four strokes) the old-fashioned way: 75-75 – out. Tiger, on the other hand, put on more of a show on his way to a trunk-slamming 72-75–147. He skulled a drive that didn’t make it past the ladies’ tees, missed fairways both to the left and the right, and then took bad advice from a fellow competitor and was assessed a two-stroke penalty that dropped him below the cut line by one stroke.
Speculation on the possible ramifications of McIlroy’s full-on switch to Nike – clubs, ball, and apparel – has been running rampant ever since the switch was confirmed at a splashy Nike press conference in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the week. The buzz in the press ramped up several decibels on the second day of the Abu Dhabi tournament when the mop-topped young Northern Irishman came to the course with his tried-and-true Scotty Cameron putter back in the bag, his new Nike Method flat stick having let him down on Thursday. He was evasive when asked if his deal with Nike allowed him to switch back to his old putter, mouthing the company line about how great his new equipment was, and saying that he didn’t want to get into the specifics of his contract.
Tiger’s penalty was all over the golf news and the Twitter-sphere as the sun rose over the Western Hemisphere. It seems that on the 11th hole his ball landed in a sandy, but vine-covered area right of the fairway, and both he and fellow competitor Martin Kaymer, whom he consulted, concluded that the lie constituted an embedded ball, and that he was entitled to a free drop. Golfweek correspondent Alister Tait asked an on-course rules official about the drop when Woods’ group was playing the next hole, and after viewing the scene, the official notified Woods that he had taken an illegal drop, and that he would be assessed a two-stroke penalty.
Despite a string of three birdies later in the back nine, between his displays of poor play (11 of 28 fairways, 19 of 36 greens in regulation) and a shocking lack of knowledge of the Rules of Golf, Woods found himself on the wrong side of the cut line for the first time ever in a regular-season European Tour event.
Woods returns to action next week at the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines; McIlroy, who evidently needs a little familiarization time with his new sticks, won’t be back in competition until the WGC Accenture World Championships at Dove Mountain, Arizona, in five weeks’ time.