With Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy taking their Butch and Sundance routine outside the ropes, the marketing maestros at Nike must be antsy with anticipation for January 1. The new year signals the first day after the expiration of McIlroy’s Titleist contract, freeing Nike to unloose on the world what one can only imagine will be a slew of Tiger-Rory commercials pitching its red hot new driver and other wares worthy of the world’s Nos. 1 and 2.
How else to interpret the two birdie buddies sitting down with CNN’s Living Golf for an exclusive joint interview (our italics added) during which Woods expressed supreme confidence that he would break Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record and McIlroy kvelled like a school kid over his boyhood hero’s exploits?
"Absolutely. With the fitness routine and eating properly and staying in shape I could play for a very long time and I'm looking forward to that opportunity," Woods, who will be 37 when he kicks off the 2013 season, told host Shane O’Donoghue about his plans to play until he’s at least 46 -- Nicklaus’ age when he won his 18th major. "If you say hypothetically 10 years, that's 40 more major championships I get a chance to play in and compete in and try to win, and hopefully I can try to at least win five of those."
Woods won his most recent major in 2008 and has been stalled at 14 since off-the-course bad behavior, massive swing changes, and bad wheels (both of the sports utility and human variety) kicked his career into reverse. He seemed to put all that behind him with an injury-free, three-win 2012 season that included his 74th PGA Tour victory -- one better than Nicklaus on the all-time list and second only to Sam Snead’s 82.
Not bad for a guy who must answer relentless questions about whether he’s “back” and if and when he’ll ever capture another major.
"Every press conference I go to I get hammered -- 'Oh you're never going to win again blah blah blah' -- and it was every tournament I went to," Woods said. “To do that all a lot and then to pass Jack on the all-time win list this year and do it 10 years younger than him, I think that's a pretty neat accomplishment."
His young acolyte, who, rumors have it, is set to ink a 10-year, $250 million deal with Nike, agreed. While McIlroy topped Woods on the tour money list this year and has won two majors in the past two seasons, the 23-year-old appeared in awe of his elder’s accomplishments -- and with good reason.
"It was just the best run of golf that was ever seen," McIlroy said about Woods achieving the “Tiger Slam,” in which he won all four major championships consecutively though not in the same season. While some may sniff that Woods failed to match Bobby Jones’ feat of winning the grand slam in the same calendar year, McIlroy was mighty impressed.
"Holding all four major championships at the one time is incredible," added McIlroy. "It is probably just a pity that it didn't all happen in the one year because I am not sure that would ever happen again."
As for himself, the young man from Holywood, Northern Ireland, said he would take his major titles one championship at a time and had a long way to go before he would have the old man in his sights.
“Obviously I looked up to Tiger so much as a kid and obviously he's always had that goal of trying to surpass Jack's number and maybe one day I'll think about it a little more and try and put a number on it,” McIlroy said. “But right now I'm at two and I want to get to three.
"I think the next big goal for me is if I could win the career gland slam, it would be a huge point. Not many players have done it in the past and it would be great to add my name to that list."
In the meantime, Nike execs rolled out the company’s new Covert driver with a splashy, online intro earlier this week and speculation persists that Woods and McIlroy have shot at least one ad promoting the stick’s high-speed cavity back technology with dual-axis adjustment and a striking deep magenta head. We’re guessing that the suits from Beaverton could not be happier with exhibitions like the duo’s one-on-one “Duel on Jinsha Lake” in China and chat fests with CNN and other major outlets, which can only serve to whet consumers’ appetites for what comes next from golf's power couple.