Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods among Nike stars choosing new equipment

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy plans to use equipment from several suppliers in 2017

Rory McIlroy dominates the chatter amid heightened new year intrigue over the latest equipment deals in professional golf.

January is often the month when new contracts are agreed. Players sign with club manufacturers in a process that boosts the bank balance but, despite the hype, does not guarantee lower scores - not that they would admit as much.

But 2017 provides a different landscape in the golf equipment market and McIlroy is trying to make the most of current circumstances.

The 27-year-old from Northern Ireland remains a highly remunerated poster boy for Nike, which has provided all his golf equipment, clothing and footwear since 2013.

However, with the American sports giant announcing in August that it is pulling out of the club and ball part of the industry, McIlroy now has the pick of what else is around, while continuing to wear the Nike logo on his sleeve.

This also applies to other players in the Nike stable, including Tiger Woods.

McIlroy has spent much of the past few weeks testing new equipment and it seems he will continue his quest to add to his four major titles with a completely changed bag.

Having ended last year with Taylormade woods, Nike irons and ball, and a Scotty Cameron putter, McIlroy is considering wholesale change when he begins his golfing year at next week's South African Open.

According to the "No Laying Up" blog, which carried a lengthy podcast with the player last year, McIlroy is planning to use Callaway woods and irons, Titleist ball and wedges, and an Odyssey putter.

While he has been inundated with offers from manufacturers keen for him to use their kit, the world number two is in the rare position of being beholden to no-one but himself.

His time on the range has been spent marrying together a combination that will best suit his game and technique with no corporate compromise. As a free agent, he will be able to mix and match as the year progresses.

Competition between manufacturers is as intense as it is amid the players on the course. They pay a lot of money for the leading stars to endorse their products and contracts are stringent.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has been the face of Nike's golf equipment since he turned professional in 1996

It is extraordinary to think that a man of Woods' means was only able to go back to the putter with which he won 13 of his 14 majors once Nike had pulled out of their golf manufacturing business.

Asked when he picked up again his most trusty putter, Woods responded: "I'd say the day [Nike] got out of the hard-goods side."

Woods had been exclusively using a Nike putter since the start of 2011 but clearly could not wait to change back as soon as he was able. He is now contracted to play a Bridgestone ball.

Despite state-of-the-art fitting processes used by all leading manufacturers, there must always be a danger of signing away the idiosyncratic choices that can be crucial to a golfer's game.

Matthew Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick, 22, won the DP World Tour Championship in November

Britain's brightest prospect, Matt Fitzpatrick, has so far forgone the instant riches of a club deal. This meant he was able to switch drivers late last season and the move yielded extra yardage from the tee.

Within a couple of weeks, the 22-year-old from Sheffield won his biggest title to date, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Some players do deals that mean they play predominantly with the equipment of the manufacturer they are contracted to promote but sacrifice the dividend of exclusivity to retain choices over drivers, wedges and balls.

This can lead to one sponsor's head-cover sitting on the club-head of a rival manufacturer, which is hardly satisfactory in a marketplace that can be influenced by who is thought to play with which clubs.

Until they pulled out of the equipment side of the business, Nike wanted their players to play exclusively with their clubs and ball as well as wear their clothes and shoes.

And they remain heavily committed to the apparel side, having just signed world number one Jason Day as their latest clothes horse.

Lydia Ko
Women's world number one Lydia Ko has signed a deal with new manufacturer PXG

The Australian will continue to play the Taylormade clubs that helped him to the top of the rankings and there will be no link between equipment and his new look on the course.

It is an ever-changing landscape with players often ready to ditch the clubs with which they made their reputation. Lydia Ko is the latest, the women's world number one having signed with PXG, the newest manufacturer on the range.

How she performs with her new tools will inevitably be watched closely - but she is not alone in the spotlight at such a febrile time in the golf manufacturing market.