McIlroy to Give New Clubs Another Go at Match Play Championship

Right after signing an equipment contract with Nike that will pay him a reported $20 million annually, Rory McIlroy stumbled out of the gate. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman missed the cut in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship following his switch to the new clubs, shooting two 3-over 75s.

Now, with a month off from competition, the No. 1-ranked player in golf will try out his new clubs again in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The $8.75 million event begins Wednesday at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain near Tucson, Ariz.

In 2012, McIlroy finished as the runner-up in the tournament to Hunter Mahan, losing to the Southern Californian 2 and 1 in the 36-hole championship finale. This year McIlroy returns as the No. 1 overall seed and faces Ireland's Shane Lowry in his first match.

As expected, McIlroy received some flak from critics, who questioned whether he could have the same success - the youngster has already racked up six PGA Tour titles, including two majors, and five victories in Europe - as with his previous equipment.

Among those weighing against McIlroy's switch was Nick Faldo, who called McIlroy's move from Nike to Titleist "dangerous." During a press conference in Arizona on Tuesday, the Ulsterman had a ready response when asked about Faldo's remark.

"Nick Faldo doesn't know how I feel over the golf shot and I don't know how he felt," McIlroy said. "But my guess is he was a little more analytically minded than I am. I try and keep things as simple as possible.

"If I see the ball going in the direction that I want, in the flight that I want, then I'm happy. It feels good and hopefully I can show that to everyone this week," added McIlroy, who since mid-January has made adjustments with the new equipment, adding a heavier Nike putter and changing the shaft on his driver.

McIlroy also anticipated criticism if he didn't do well in his debut with Nike clubs. "I knew it would happen if I didn't play well," he said.

"I probably put a little bit too much pressure on myself to play well because of that. Abu Dhabi was a busy week, there was a lot going on; I was just glad to get to the first tee on Thursday morning and play some golf. I didn't play as well as I would have liked but I have had a nice few weeks off and feel like I'm coming into this event prepared, ready and swinging the club well. I'm hitting the ball well."

McIlroy is excited about going head to head with Lowry, a friend he competed against as an amateur in the UK. "Who would have thought that, a few years ago playing together in the European team championships at Western Gailes, we would be playing in the first round of the match play here in a few years' time," McIlroy marveled.

"It is pretty cool to think where we have come from. It will be good. It will be a lot of fun."