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Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Rubenstein: Brackets busted and egos wounded Add to ...

The absurdity of trying to pick winners in golf was again made vivid by the results of the first round in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Only somebody who was hallucinating could have predicted the trifecta, or is that imperfecta, of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and Charl Schwartzel losing their opening matches. But they did. Over and out, and in their planes and across the country to their estates in the Jupiter, Fla. area, there to prepare over the weekend for next week’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens.

I wrote here about the folly of picking winners. Here we are again, with brackets busted and egos wounded. Not really. It’s a guessing game. Here’s another question for the guessing gamesters: Are McIlroy’s new Nike clubs the culprits behind his recent poor play?

That’s a widespread assumption among the golf punditry these days. It’s another subject that never lacks for discussion, whether on Golf Channel or at golf clubs. After all, the world number one player signed a big contract recently to play Nike’s clubs, as all the golf world knows. Did he bolt for the cash, and leave the instruments of his success to this point behind on the chance that his new equipment will prove equally or more effective? It took a big bankroll for McIlroy to leave Titleist, with whose equipment he had won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship, by eight shots in each case. Woods, of course, also plays Nike. He’s ranked number two in the world Nike has to be hoping for showdowns between McIlroy and Woods. The brackets at the Accenture were such that they would have met in the final match had they won their previous matches. Alas, it was one and done for each golfer. But never mind. Maybe they’ll be one-two, or tied for the lead, heading into the last round of the Honda Classic. McIlroy won the tournament last year, and Woods shot a final-round 62 to finish second. Maybe they’ll be in the last group Sunday. One never knows. But one might as well guess.

Forget it. I’ve said that predicting what will happen in golf is a silly exercise. But what about the nagging notion that his new Nikes are neutering McIlroy’s top of the world ranking game? He shot 75-75 to miss the cut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last month. He switched in the second round from a Nike putter to his Titleist putter. He said he’d been hitting the ball well with his Nike clubs in practice, but the good swings didn’t transfer to the course. He said he needed more work.

McIlroy put in the work. He came to the snowy Arizona desert for the Accenture feeling good about the work he’d put in, and he said he felt good over the ball with his Nike clubs. He took offense to six-time major champion Nick Faldo’s comments that it was “dangerous” for him to change equipment. He said that Faldo didn’t know how he felt over the ball and that he never knew how Faldo felt. He said that Faldo is more technical then he is.

McIlroy then played poorly in his loss to his friend, Irishman Shane Lowry. McIlroy was one-down coming to the 18th hole in their match, but pushed his iron into a greenside bunker. Lowry also missed the green into that bunker. McIlroy nearly holed his bunker shot, but nearly wasn’t good enough when Lowry got up and down for par, making a four-footer to defeat him.

Neither golfer played well. There were bogies galore. McIlroy said he’d have lost by an even bigger margin against somebody playing better than Lowry did. He said he drove the ball very well but that his irons were off. He said he feels “rusty,” and that he needs more work on his irons.

“I’ve just been missing a lot of them right, just getting ahead of it,” McIlroy said after his loss. “I think it’s more a timing thing than anything else. Everything else was actually pretty good out there. I just need to go and work on them.”

He said that he just needs to go and work “on them.” He didn’t say he needs to work on his swing. It appears McIlroy was saying he needs to work on his irons. His new Nike irons.

But enough of this deconstructing McIlroy’s game with his new Nikes. It’s far too early to conclude that he made a mistake by switching from Titleist to Nike. Let’s see how he does at the Honda Classic, and at the following week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral in Miami.

The swings he makes and the numbers he puts up will offer more clues as to whether McIlroy made the right decision in going with Nike. Let’s see how this plays out. As for predictions in this matter, or for which golfer will win the Accenture, here are my views on each subject.

I have no idea. I have no idea.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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