Top 25 golf stories of 2013, No. 25: Rory McIlroy switches to Nike, miserable winless year follows

USA TODAY Sports

Narratives abound for the 2013 season just ended, and Rory McIlroy made his share of headlines, for better but, mostly, for worse.

The PGA Tour’s new split season began more than a month ago and the LPGA has a week to go, but we’re still working on 2013 time and mulling the top 25 story lines of Tiger Woods’ 11th player of the year campaign.

With five wins, four high-profile penalties, and no major for the fifth straight season, Woods was -- obviously, and always -- the star of the show. But Mother NatureColonel SandersbroomsticksSammy the Squirrel, and Bambi all hogged headlines in the year that was in golf. Over the next month, we'll count down our picks for the most memorable story lines that shaped the 2013 golf season.

Let's get things started with Rory McIlroy, who opened the first month of the 2013 season with a laser light show put on by his new equipment sponsor. That would be about it for highlights for young Rory...

25. Rory shifts gear to Nike, stalls express train to Hall of Fame

Last year’s Boy Wonder has shown some promise in his last few stints, in KoreaChina, and Dubai, and has two starts left in which to tally his first win of the year. But McIlroy’s had an absolute McNightmare of a 2013 since switching to the swoosh in January.

Coincidence? Not according to a chorus of wise guys, with Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller leading the choir of voices vociferous about McIlroy’s decision to grab the cash rather than stick with the clubs that helped him to two major championships. Blame distraction over the hype of new sticks, young love, a legion of lawsuits, too few competitive repsmental and mechanical woes; whatever the reason(s), McIlroy was a shadow of his 2012 self.

There was the missed cut in Abu Dhabi in his debut as Tiger's Nike stablemate, an early ouster from match play, the controversial Honda Classic withdrawal, and, well, that’s just the way it went for McIlroy. Much to the chagrin of Phil Knight, he even publicly took it out on one of his new Nike sticks during another frustrating week at the U.S. Open at Merion:

Rorybent_medium

The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland showed glimmers of his former self in the waning weeks of 2013 and could build some momentum for next season with a victory at next week’s Australian Open or in Tiger Woods’ year-ending Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.

However the rest of his year plays out, Graeme McDowell’s candidate to be Tiger’s heir apparent had a 2013 season to forget. Will he be more comfortable with his Nike gear, and quell some of the off-the-course distractions to come back in 2014?

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