Once you've reached number one in the world, where else is there to go? For Rory McIlroy, it was to bag a multi-million dollar deal with Nike whilst he searches for his next major title. It sounded like a good plan, standing side by side with Tiger Woods - an advertiser's dream - but when you're at the top of the game, it's not long before the critiques want to bring you down from your throne.
'The Curse of Nike' has shadowed the young starlet since he joined the brand following his poor performances which have been evident on the course in recent weeks. A workman may always blame his tools, though it has to be said that switching from Titleist to Nike was never going to be an easy move. It's not just the physical aspect of his new equipment which McIlroy needs to get to grips with, but also the mental side. Every golfer knows they need to be able to trust their ability with the clubs they are using; this is rule number one before you even attempt to swing a club back. It seems that McIlroy had not found this balance yet considering that he briefly flirted with his old putter before returning to the new one in his bag. Indeed it appears that despite the allure of his new Nike swish, McIlroy's performance of late has suffered, a problem he needs to sort out fast if he is going to stand a chance in the Masters Tournament next month.
Eyebrows were raised last week when McIlroy pulled out of the Honda Classic in Florida when he reached +7 through eight holes. Heading to a waiting BMW, he commented that he was not "mentally there" before swiftly driving away from the course. A PR panic inevitably ensued as hours later McIlroy released a statement claiming that severe pain tooth pain had left it impossible for him to play on. Tweeting later in the day, he told his followers that he had been desperate to defend the title in Florida and was "gutted" he couldn't play on.
Unsurprisingly, McIlroy has faced a fair amount of criticism for this decision and indeed players can be penalised for pulling out of a tournament without offering a valid reason. We must remember though that we have been here before. Remember Augusta National in 2011? Many were quick to write off the then 21-year old only for him to triumph at the US Open two months later, snatching the title by eight shots. Then there was his summer slump last year where a string of missed cuts prevailed before he found his form again and clawed his way back to the top spot. So, alarm bells shouldn't be ringing just yet but McIlroy clearly has work to do. Following his Masters disaster in 2011, one renowned golf personality commented that Rory needed to get back out onto the course to find his form again, rather than taking a break and drowning his sorrows. As it turned out, that was exactly the right advice. We've seen him rise, we've seen him fall, but no one should write off the young wonder just yet. He is very much a man on a mission, a constant mission to prove the doubters wrong.