PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy will be keen to dispel any doubts about the impact of his equipment change in this week’s Honda Classic where he comes up against a field featuring Tiger Woods.
McIlroy is the defending champion at the PGA National course after a victory last year that sent him to the top of the world rankings for the first time.
Since that win, where the Northern Irishman held off a late charge from Woods, McIlroy has claimed three more victories, including the PGA Championship.
But last month, the 23-year-old switched his club brand from Titleist to Nike in a lucrative deal reported to be worth as much as $250 million over 10 years.
Former world number one Nick Faldo called the change in club manufacturers “dangerous” and the concerns have hardly been eased given the two-times major winner’s slow start to the year.
McIlroy has played just three professional rounds in three months, missing the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship last month and suffering a first-round exit in the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship last week in Arizona.
While there is plenty of speculation about how tricky he might be finding the adjustment to new clubs, McIlroy certainly is not feeling the pressure yet.
“It’s fine, I knew coming into it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew it there was going to be comments if it didn’t happen for me right way,” he told reporters.
“I‘m only two tournaments into the season. I’ve still got 20 to go. So it’s not like I‘m in any rush; it’s not like I‘m pushing for answers or I‘m looking for answers. Everything’s there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
McIlroy is not, of course, the first top player to have to adjust to the feel of new clubs after a commercial move, as Woods himself noted.
“I went through equipment changes over the years, but as I said, it’s over the years,” said Woods.
”There have been a lot of players who have done wholesale changes with sponsorships. I think Ernie (Els) has played for every company there is out there. There are a few guys who have done that and they have had a lot of success, and there are a lot of stories where they have not done well and been off the tour soon.
“Rory, understandably, he’s going through the process. We talked about it a little bit. It is a process. The good news is about today’s equipment, we have so many different ways of testing it and tracking it and getting numbers, which back in the days ... that wasn’t the case.”
Woods will be looking to recover from his own first round exit in Arizona to Charles Howell III, although he is not too worried about a loss in the matchplay format.
“Generally if you’re missing a cut, you’re probably not playing that well. I actually played well, and only played one day,” said Woods. “He made a couple more birdies, and that’s just the nature of the business in that format.”
McIlroy says he is still in “an adjustment period” but said he is more concerned with his swing than the feel of new clubs.
“I would like to get back to where I was say the middle of last year,” said McIlroy. “Because if you put my swing now up the way I was swinging it last year, it’s chalk and cheese. So that’s the real thing that I‘m working on.”
The Honda Classic has grown in stature in recent years, largely thanks to the participation of McIlroy and Woods as part of a strong field.
World number five Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and his compatriot, British Open champion Ernie Els, are among the contenders along with English pair Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.
Young Americans Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler and Australian Geoff Ogilvy will also be looking to make their mark ahead of next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral near Miami.
Editing by Frank Pingue