Rory McIlroy's woes force Irish Open winner Paul Casey to defend Nike

Ross Kinnaird

Nike is not to blame for Rory McIlroy's erratic play, says Paul Casey, who won the Irish Open on Sunday using sticks from the swoosh.

Rory McIlroy's struggles since swapping his multiple major championship-winning Titleist sticks for megabucks and clubs from Tiger Woods' Nike Golf are legend and growing with every poor start and iron-mangling from the world No. 2. Now, it seems, defending McIlroy and his equipment has fallen to newly crowned Irish Open winner Paul Casey, who, though not nearly so famous as his European Tour compatriot, also has Beaverton bats in his bag.

"Wow, whatever I say could be quite delicate," Casey told reporters with a laugh on Sunday after winning the Irish Open by three strokes.

Noting that he would not quibble with reports that McIlroy was a streaky player, the 35-year-old Englishman said he expected Tiger's good pal to hoist another trophy or two in the near future.

"I have 100 percent confidence in Rory being back in the winner's circle very, very soon," Casey said. "I'll be honest, I don't -- I talk to Rory on the range but I don't know what he's working on or what he's been struggling with equipment‑wise. That's something to ask Rory and ask the techs."

One need not check in with the techs to know that McIlroy missed the cut -- his fourth worldwide MC of the season -- at the Irish Open and attributed his lackluster play to poor putting and a Nike Covert driver that needed some additional tweaking.

"The driver hasn't been the best club in my bag this year to be honest," McIlroy told the Irish Times. "It's been a bit of a struggle off the tee. I base my game around that and if I drive the ball well, I am going to do well."

The six-time PGA Tour winner said he planned to meet with Nike specialists this week to test out different driver specs so he could "have confidence" heading into the British Open in little more than two weeks.

Casey, who has mounted a comeback from a series of injuries to win his first competition since the European Tour's Volvo Golf Champions in January 2011, argued that, despite McIlroy's well-publicized equipment woes, Nike did not sell an "inferior" product.

"You know, it really frustrates me when I read negative press about Nike and their equipment. They are a legitimate golf brand, legitimate golf company, and sure, people don't necessarily see what I see behind the scenes with the R&D and the personnel that are making fantastic golf products," Casey said. "It's right up there, I would put sort of three or four other manufacturers up there in the same ballpark.

"But it is not inferior in any way," Casey asserted, "and this is just something that [McIlroy's] just trying to get right. I have confidence that he will."

As for Casey's various ailments, he said he may require surgery on the big toe on his right foot. He also said he was unlikely to get back on a snowboard after falling off one and dislocating his collarbone at the end of 2011.

In fact, Casey said, his Nike contract precluded such shenanigans.

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