Rory McIlroy has long been one of the most likable professional athletes on the planet. The 23-year-old is currently under contract with Titleist/Footjoy until the end of 2012, but rumor has it that Nike will make a serious push to sign him after his contracts expire.

The deal, worth a reported $250 million over 10 years, is significantly more than Tiger Woods’ five-year, $100 million deal back in 2001. With Woods turning 37 in a few months, many believe it is time that the Nike golf brand get a new face.

He seems like the right choice, as the Irish Times calls McIlroy a “sponsor’s dream” and the second most marketable player in the world.

The 23-year-old from Co Down has long been considered a sponsor’s dream — clean cut, articulate and immensely popular worldwide — and according to London-based publication SportPro Media, he is the second most marketable athlete in the world behind Brazilian soccer star Neymar.

But while there has been industry chatter for the best part of the last three years that he is set to join sports equipment giants Nike, the noise has reached deafening levels over the past few months.

Sources consulted by The Irish Times insist that the move to Nike will become a reality when the Titleist/Footjoy deal expires.

There is always the chance that McIlroy will choose to stay with the Titleist/Footjoy brand, but with numbers upwards of $200 million, we would be very surprised if he didn’t make the switch to Nike.

[Devil Ball Golf]