McIlroy to sign with Nike
Dongguan - Francesco Molinari Friday played down fears over Rory McIlroy's expected big-money deal with American giant Nike after Nick Faldo called the plan "dangerous" for the world number one.
The Italian, who was McIlroy's team-mate at the Ryder Cup and has been sponsored by Nike throughout his career, called it a "good match" and backed the Northern Irish star to quickly adjust to new clubs and equipment.
"You never know until he does it but I think it's a good match," Molinari told AFP at the WGC-HSBC Champions at Mission Hills in southern China.
"I think Nike has got the equipment and the potential to make the switch as easy as possible for Rory, and I think Rory's brand and Nike's brand match well together."
He added: "I think he's going to be number one in the world for a while. I think it would be a good match."
Molinari was speaking after Faldo urged McIlroy not to switch clubs. His agreement with Titleist will be allowed to lapse at the end of the year, fuelling speculation over a Nike deal which will reportedly earn him up to $250 million over 10 years.
"I call it dangerous," Faldo, a six-time Major-winner, said on the Golf Channel. "I've changed clubs and changed equipment and every manufacturer will say 'We can copy your clubs, we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you'.
"But there's feel and sound as well and there's confidence. You can't put a real value on that -- it's priceless."
Molinari, however, said 23-year-old McIlroy, already a double Major champion and one of sport's most bankable stars, would take the changes in his stride if he joins the Nike stable.
"I think the stuff (equipment) is good enough. He obviously will need a little bit of time to get everything right but I think the Nike products at the moment are really good so I don't think he will have any issue with that," said Molinari.
"They've been investing a lot in research and development of the clubs and the balls. They have a good driver, the irons are good, wedges are good, it's a good ball, the putters have improved a lot over the years.
"So I think at the moment they have a good service for us players and all the equipment is really good."
McIlroy deflected questions about a possible deal at this week's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" exhibition with 14-time Major champion Tiger Woods, who is one of Nike's most prominent athletes.
"These rumours have been going around for years and it seems to always come up at this time of the year," McIlroy said at China's 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."
McIlroy has attracted criticism for his decision to skip the WGC-HSBC Champions, one of the year's biggest tournaments, despite playing the lucrative event with Woods in China just days earlier.