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McIlroy tries to play down US$250 mil. Nike deal rumor

SHANGHAI -- World number one Rory McIlroy on Tuesday attempted to brush aside growing speculation in that he is about to sign a multimillion-dollar deal to join Tiger Woods in the Nike stable.

McIlroy, in Shanghai for the US$7 million BMW Masters which begins on Thursday, was responding to stories in Irish newspapers which claimed the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland was about to sign a Nike contract which could see him earn up to a staggering US$250 million over 10 years.

McIlroy's current deal with golf giant Titleist expires at the end of 2012, making the double major winner and leader on the money list on both sides of the Atlantic the most prized free agent on the equipment market.

“These rumors have been going around for years and it seems to always come up at this time of the year,” McIlroy told AFP at Lake Malaren Golf Club.

“I leave it up to Conor (Ridge, McIlroy's manager) to sort out as it leaves me to concentrate on my golf.

“That's all I can do and besides I have enough to think about trying to get the ball in the hole.

“Also I've got a very important end to my season coming up and I need to concentrate myself fully on that goal.”

It is no secret that Woods, the world number two, and McIlroy have become good friends as well as on-course rivals. Indeed, the two will go head-to-head in “The Duel at Jinsha Lake” in Zhengzhou, China, next Monday.

“That should be really exciting and I'm really looking forward to heading back to Lake Jinsha,” said McIlroy of the 18-hole medal match.

“I've spoken to Tiger about it and we are both really excited as it will be the first time we will ever do something like this together, and hopefully the first of a few occasions we can do this.

“We both enjoy each other's company, and besides there are not many guys I would do something like this with and I know he feels the same. So it should work well.”

And with more than a hint of further commercial hook-ups between the two biggest draws in the game in the future McIlroy added, tellingly: “I see it also as a good marketing exercise for Tiger and myself.”

Nike regard the clean-cut, immensely likeable and youthful McIlroy as a dream signing after sticking with Tiger Woods through his well-documented marital indiscretions and fall from golfing grace.

If the rumors turn out to be true then that burgeoning relationship between McIlroy and Woods could mean Nike capture the two biggest names in golf for the next decade or more — but at a huge price.

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World number one golfer Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, plays table tennis at a media event for the BMW Shanghai Masters golf tournament at the Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai, Tuesday, Oct. 23. The Masters will be held from Oct. 25-28. (AFP)

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