In terms of career earnings Rory McIlroy remains a long way adrift of his hero Tiger Woods, but the Northern Irishman could step into a fresh financial spectrum if a $250m (£156m) deal with Nike is finally confirmed.
Rumours about a McIlroy tie-up with Nike have been rife for some time and the golfer's management company is refusing to comment on the speculation. However, it is believed that McIlroy is now close to a 10-year agreement with the sports manufacturing giant which, crucially, would see him change equipment for the first time since turning professional.
McIlroy's existing contracts with Titleist, which supplies him with clubs and golf balls, the Dubai-based hotel group Jumeirah, the sunglasses manufacturer Oakley, Santander bank, and the watchmaker Audemars Piguet are thought to have netted him $10m (£6.25m). On top of that, McIlroy will have received bonuses for his two major championship wins to date.
Nike routinely insists on exclusive branding on its elite sportsmen, which would result in settlement fees being required towards those sponsors of McIlroy whose contracts are not about to expire. The Titleist deal will end at the end of this year barring a now unlikely extension.
McIlroy has career earnings of roughly £15m at the age of just 23. A deal with Nike would cement an earnings status far beyond that of any other European golfer, though leaving him still a long way short of Woods.
Woods collected $40m (£25m) for a five-year contract with Nike in 1996. When that was extended in 2001, the value had increased to $105m (£66m); despite Woods falling from grace in the intervening years, his Nike deal is not thought to have decreased. Interestingly, joint marketing of McIlroy and Woods could actually prove beneficial to both players.
Statistics released in the United States in 2011 suggested that Woods had picked up $62m (£39m) in off-course earnings – and Phil Mickelson $38m (£24m) – in that year alone, compared to McIlroy's $5.9m (£3.7m).
McIlroy holds obvious appeal to Nike and is generally regarded as infinitely marketable because of his clean-cut image and apparent inability to court controversy, his on-course performances aside. Despite his relationship with the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who is sponsored by Adidas, McIlroy has avoided negative publicity as his career has blossomed.
Nike stuck by Woods after the string of revelations about his personal life which led to the American losing other endorsements. The episode did, however, cause embarrassment given the brand's career-long association with Woods.
Nike was also wounded by the jailing of the NFL player Michael Vick for his part in a dog-fighting scene and, more recently, witnessed the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong. Both those figures held high-profile Nike sponsorships.
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