2008 The Year of Game-Improvement

By January 31, 2008, 5:00 pm
Adam Scott won the Qatar Masters last Sunday, shooting a final round 61 which featured a flawless 18 greens in regulation. What is even more interesting is that Scott accomplished this remarkable feat with the new cavity back Titleist AP2 irons. Scott was previously a dedicated muscle back iron player. Whatever the reasons were that precipitated the change, Scott must have liked the new irons and felt tangible advantages since he claims to never change a club unless it is broken. But Scott is not an isolated case. Titleist is predicting the AP2 to be the most popular choice among their PGA Tour staff in 2008. In fact, all across the PGA Tour, more players are beginning to switch to more forgiving clubs, but will 2008 be the year of the game improvement club?
This trend hasn't happened overnight. Changes in golf ball designs have significantly reduced spin over the wound balls of yesteryear. In order to maintain the same ball flight, something must be done to increase spin. Almost every club has had to adapt to accommodate this desired change. Drivers now have more loft than ever before, the center of gravity in irons is placed lower and farther back, and wedges now have grooves milled to the maximum dimensions, all to increase the amount of spin that has been lost over time. Hybrid clubs have now replaced long irons, increasing launch angle, spin, and distance which was previously unattainable through traditional long irons.
From recent tournaments, PGA Tour players are moving toward game improvement models. In addition to Adam Scott, K.J. Choi won the Sony Open making a mixed set between Nike's game improvement Ignites as his long irons and traditional blades as his short irons. K.J. also had incredible success in 2007 with Nike's high MOI Sumo Square driver, winning twice with it. Even Tiger Woods himself has made some changes, frequently rotating his two iron with a five wood depending on the course and conditions.
But will the average golfer take note? Traditionally, forgiving clubs have had a distinctive 'look,' thicker top lines, wider soles, and more offset. With many cavity back irons, the cavity is visible in clubs with the lowest lofts. However, that is now changing. In 2008, they might well be hard pressed to not add some forgiveness into their bags perhaps without even knowing it. Companies are becoming incredibly adept at incorporating things like perimeter weighting, wide soles, and low center of gravity into shapes even the most ardent traditionalists can accept. Titleist's AP2 is a perfect example. At address, the cavity is invisible and is filled with a rubber compound giving it the look and soft feel of a traditional blade. Bridgestone has also worked hard to introduce a better looking, more forgiving iron the J36 Pocket Cavity. Similar to the AP2, the Pocket Cavity features a channel cut into the cavity which increases perimeter weighting while still giving the iron a clean look with a thin top line and sole.

Among drivers, the geometry driven MOI craze has gained a lot of publicity. However, even traditionally shaped drivers are becoming incredibly forgiving to off-center hits. Engineers are coming up with new ways to redistribute weight around the club head to help increase forgiveness. Ping's G10 features a newly designed crown which has thinner areas to save weight which can be repositioned lower and further back in the club head. Other companies are looking to composite materials to help minimize weight and move it lower and further back. Some golfers have tried new high MOI drivers, but found them to have unpleasant sound and feel. Companies are paying close attention and are refining previous designs to provide traditional feel golfers are used to. Cobra has added internal baffles to their new 2008 Speed LD driver to give it a more muted, solid sound rather than the loud, high-pitched tone the previous model had. So if the tin can sound of high MOI models has been scaring you off, there is now good reason to give them a try in 2008.
However, forgiveness is alive and well on the greens as well. Many people think putters are one place where they don't need forgiveness. However, attach some impact tape to the face of your putter and you might change your mind. Companies are addressing this in a variety fo ways. TaylorMade's unique Spider may not win any beauty contests. However it is beginning to win over players on the PGA Tour. Twelve Spiders were put into play in last week's Buick Invitational. The putter's ability to move weight far back and to the outside allows for excellent distance control on off center hits. Many golfers struggle with lag putting and more often than not, it is their contact on the face which causes them to struggle with speed. Moving to a higher MOI putter can help since hits toward the heel and toe don't lose energy they travel closer to their intended distance.
If you're considering adding clubs into your bag, chances are good you can find a model with more forgiveness than what you're currently using. Its still very early, but signs are pointing to a strong year for game-improvement clubs in 2008.

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.