Rory McIlroy makes late change to brand of woods on eve of Masters

Exclusive by Ewan Murray at Augusta National
Rory McIlroy practises at Augusta with a new TaylorMade M2 fairway wood. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Rory McIlroy has changed his brand and model of fairway woods on the eve of the Masters, taking to Augusta National on Tuesday morning with a bag including the newly introduced TaylorMade fairway woods alongside Callaway irons and driver. The move once again highlights the Northern Irishman’s willingness to make key alterations in his attempt to collect a grand slam of major championships.

McIlroy has been without an equipment contract since the turn of the year after Nike withdrew from manufacturing golf clubs and balls. The four-times major champion had been playing with Callaway Great Big Bertha fairway woods throughout the early part of 2017, but has switched to a TaylorMade M2 three wood and five wood two days before the Masters.

“It’s just that they fit this golf course a little bit better than the other ones did,” McIlroy said. “It’s a nice position to be in. You have the freedom to try what’s out. It would be nice at some point to have a very settled bag where I know what I’m using week‑in, week‑out. I feel like I’m nearly at that point but not quite. I feel like what I have in my bag this week will be adequate enough to do the job if I can make good swings with them.”

McIlroy’s desire to be fully comfortable with the tools at his disposal has been shown by the fact he has not signed what would clearly be a highly lucrative deal with one or multiple equipment brands. His bag, a key commercial platform in itself, now bears the logo of his charity foundation rather than an external sponsor.

It was confirmed earlier that McIlroy, 27, had extended his shoe and clothing partnership with Nike for another 10 years. That agreement is understood to be potentially worth more than $200m, emphasising his status as one of the most marketable sportspeople on the planet.

McIlroy used media duties on Tuesday afternoon to reveal he had already played 99 preparatory holes at Augusta in 2017. He shrugged aside an afternoon first-round draw, with high winds due to hit this corner of Georgia on Thursday afternoon. “It has been quite blustery here the last few years. We’ve experienced those conditions and hopefully I know how to handle them by now.”

He admitted the strain of the Masters buildup. “Ask anyone who knows me, I’m a complete prick in the week leading up to Augusta. But they understand and know that. It’s a stressful situation.”

Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, has turned fire on fellow PGA Tour professionals in respect of how they mark balls on greens. Controversy overshadowed the closing stages of the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, on Sunday after Lexi Thompson was penalised for incorrect replacing of her ball before putting the day before.

When asked about that episode, Mickelson issued a surprise broadside. “Rather than address that specific instance what I would say is this, I know a number of guys on tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it,” the five-times major winner said. “I mean, they will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.

“I think it should be handled within the tour. I think that the tour should go to those players and say, look, we’ve noticed you’ve been a little lax in how precise you’ve been in marking the ball. We’d like you to be a little bit better at it – and see if that doesn’t just kind of fix the thing.”

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