Unleashing the Big Dog

By Adam BarrApril 16, 2003, 4:00 pm
To some people, it's like juggling plates of egg foo yong and trying not to spill. For others, it's like sledding down an icy hill - kind of out-of-control and exhilarating.
OK, perhaps I've gone a little over the top in expressing the endless quest to find the perfect driver. But in terms of how you deal with uncertainty, how you go with the flow, how you tweak a big group of knobs, it's not all that different.
The No. 1 Lesson the What's In The Bag? crew learned in preparing our premier show on drivers is that the big stick is a big conundrum. The golfer has not been born who is indifferent to long, straight drives. But plenty of golfers have a distaste for all the ways a drive can go wrong.
Or right. Whereas it used to seem that you could reach driver heaven simply by buying a bigger one, that is clearly not the case anymore. Drivers are a multi-factor analysis, and if you want to optimize your performance, you have to confront each factor.
I can hear you: 'I have to what with my what about what?' C'mon; buck up. It's all about optimization this year, about how to dial in all the variables on the driver so it will best reward your ability. Here's the multi-factor register, and by the time I get done writing it, science will probably have discovered that it's a partial list:
Loft. The experts say that we all play too little. It makes a certain kind of sense that a low screamer will go longer. But studies of how golf balls behave show that getting the ball higher for longer periods (hang time, if you will) will usually result in longer drives for recreational players. If you play 10.5 degrees, try a 12, just for kicks. You may end up hitting your second shot last a lot.
Lie. That is, the angle of the shaft to the ground at address. It's a function of your height and stance, of course. Won't necessarily help you if it's right, but will hurt you if it's wrong. A high toe will likely send the ball left, and vice versa. A knowledgeable pro or clubfitter can help with this.
Launch angle. Ah, the holy grail. Equipment manufacturer experiments with the angle to the ground at which the ball leaves the clubface have yielded the kind of results Ernie Els saw in Hawaii this year. Monster stuff. Good news is, there's a good angle for each of us. Portable machines with high-speed cameras, called launch monitors, show the experts what's what.
The right launch angle combines with loft to keep the ball at the right height for the right amount of time, hence longer drives. Simple example, this one from club genius Barney Adams: If you need to water the plants at the end of the yard and you've reeled out all the hose you have, you can raise the hose to make the stream fall on the plants. Hold it too low, and you don't get there; hold it too high and you only water yourself. Somewhere in that 90 degrees is optimization. (For many pros, by the bye, it's between 11 and 14 degrees.)
Ball velocity. It's not all the club. New rubber recipes can help the ball rocket off the clubface faster than in years past. Trying new balls may help you find new yardage.
Coefficient of restitution. The beloved spring-like effect. Yes, it's limited in the United States, but hitting the ball on the highest COR area of the face can add yards. Many companies are working on expanding the area on the face that gives the most COR benefit - essentially, enlarging the sweet spot.
Shaft. Where does it flex? The lower the 'greatest-flex' point on the shaft, the more likely the ball will get up in the air (to a point, that is). Optimizing this variable, like most of the others, depends on the particular player's swing speed, style, and preferences.
Conditioning. Put down the Krispy Kreme; pick up a barbell. Tiger didn't get that way by accident.
And folks, that ain't all. Manufacturers are learning more every day about how to make drivers hit the ball farther. The quest is unlikely to ever stop, which offers all of us the freedom to tweak, tinker, try and enjoy to our heart's content.
And as an avid golf gearhead, what could be better than that?
Thanks for checking in. See you next week, when we'll examine the world of golf balls.
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    Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

    By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

    He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

    Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

    “I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

    In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    “I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

    Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

    “Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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    McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

    By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

    Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

    Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

    What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

    Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

    Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

    Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

    Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

    Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

    Remind you of anything?

    Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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    TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

    By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    • What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

    • But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

    • While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    • It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

    • Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

    After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

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    Highlights: Tiger (69) makes charge, collapses

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Tiger Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    The eight-time API winner was 5 under on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par, in a tie for fifth.

    "I didn't commit to it," Woods said of his drive at 16, where he attempted to fly his ball over the fairway bunkers, rather than hitting a cut or laying back. "And that's on me for not committing."

    Starting five off the lead, Tiger got rolling with with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

    Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

    A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

    A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

    Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

    Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

    His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

    But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and birdie at No. 10.

    He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

    This roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, and the charge was officially on, as Woods was suddenly just a shot back.

    Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and ripped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

    He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 and dropped another shot at the par-3 17th, ending his chances.