Devil Ball Golf

Rory McIlroy now has ‘highest paid athlete’ in his sights

Getty ImagesThere is no doubt that Rory McIlroy is marketable. The two-time major winner, both by a combined 16 shots, seems to have it all, and companies are taking notice.

The recent announcement that Rory and Nike would pair up had some astonishing numbers tossed around, with some experts saying the 23-year-old could be earning somewhere around $20 million a year and while a lot think that number is overblown, one thing is definitely not; as golf goes, the new crush for companies is McIlroy and McIlroy alone.

Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes posted a story on Rory's financial potential, saying the new Nike deal has him behind just Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the highest paid golfers but that isn't the only ceiling Rory could be shooting for.

As of now, Forbes has Floyd Mayweather ranked as the highest paid athlete and Manny Pacquiao second (Woods lands at third, with LeBron James at No. 4 and Roger Federer rounding out the top five), but the global impact that McIlroy could definitely give those boxers, and others, a (and excuse the pun) run for their money.

[Related: What impact will Rory McIlroy have on Nike (and Tiger)?]

Starting on Thursday, Rory will be sporting his Nike gear from head to toe, replacing his previous deal with Oakley gear and FootJoy shoes, but that doesn't mean he can't add some other players to his wardrobe (and golf bag). As of now, Rory still has his endorsement deal with watchmaker Audemars Piguet and if the Northern Irishman continues his play on the golf course that he showed at the end of 2012, I'm sure some other big players will be willing to foot the skyrocketing number that Rory and his team could ask for.

So what would Rory have to do to land ahead of someone like Mayweather, who earned $85 million in 2012? One thing that could help him is his interest right here in the United States. According to the Forbes report, a survey showed that Rory was the fifth most popular golfer when Americans were polled, trailing names like Woods, Mickelson and even Fred Couples.

But the draw could come. Rory punished a stocky U.S. Open field in 2011, but the event seemed to lack the normal toughness of our nation's tournament. And while the PGA Championship is still considered a major, it is definitely the one that drums up the least amount of interest with sports fans that have college football to watch as the final round concludes.

[Photo: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s bromance continues]

What Rory needs is to win the Masters, and hopefully in epic fashion. That is the golf tournament that gets the most eyeballs and if the 2004 Masters was any indication of how much people will talk if the finish deserves it, Rory could do himself a ton of help by snagging a green jacket, and soon.

No matter if he does or not, he is still the star a-shinin' in the golf world. Nike noticed, and pounced, and now it'll be up to other companies to see if they can land the No. 1 golfer in the world as his market value soars.

For more golf news, Rory news and Tiger news, follow us on Twitter at @shanebacon and @yahoodevilball.

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