Nike Irons Swoosh into Tigers Bag in Time for Ryder Cup

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NIKE IRONS IN TIGERS BAG: Tiger Woods has switched to Nikes forged irons, further engraving the ubiquitous Swoosh into his professional image.
 
Woods has been a Nike endorser since he turned professional in 1996, so it was a foregone conclusion that once that company entered the club business, he would eventually use the products. But the timing of the switch ' the eve of the big-money American Express Championship in Ireland, with the Ryder Cup the next week ' is telling. Top players tend not to change anything in advance of majors or other big events for fear of sending their games into a tailspin. Woods switch shows extraordinary confidence, Nike says.
 
Surely it shows some faith, but dont think for a moment that these clubs are truly new to Woods. Inside word is that Tiger has made multiple trips to the Fort Worth, Texas shop of Tom Stites, the veteran club designer and Nikes director of product creation, for fine-tuning. Woods also played a number of practice rounds with the prototype sticks at Shady Oaks, the late Ben Hogans old club.
 
Nike began working its way into Tigers bag earlier this year with its forged titanium driver. It was in his bag for the two majors he won, the Masters and the U.S. Open.
 
Titleist products made way for the Nike gear. Tiger had used a 975D driver before switching, and had Titleist forged prototype irons before this switch. He continued to use those clubs long after he had severed any endorsement ties with Titleist. Woods continues to use a Titleist putter by noted designer Scotty Cameron as well as Titleist wedges by Bob Vokey. But Nike already has wedges, and Nike execs have coyly refused to deny rumors that putters are in the works. That may be another foregone conclusion.
 
BERTHA RETURNS: After getting away from the famous moniker for a few models (Steelhead, ERC, C4), Callaway Golf is returning to the legendary name with the Great Big Bertha II titanium driver, which will hit stores this month. The 380 cc head, 130 cc larger than the original, features a precisely located center of gravity for optimum launch angle and spin rate, Callaway says. The size increase makes the club more forgiving as well, Callaway says, by raising that all-important moment of inertia, or resistance to twisting.
 
Callaway Great Big Bertha II driverI know what youre thinking: Yes, this club is U.S. Golf Association-legal, coming in just under the .80 limitation. But a higher C.O.R model, the Great Big Bertha II+, will be available in markets where the restriction doesnt apply, that is, the jurisdiction of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
 
Nonetheless, Weve taken a modern classic and revved it up, said Richard C. Helmstetter, Callaways design chief.
 
Callaway tour professionals who have already switched include Annika Sorenstam, Charles Howell III, Rocco Mediate, Jesper Parnevik, Jim Colbert, Emilee Klein and Kelli Kuehne.
 
Available lofts are 9, 10, 11 and 12 degrees (but no 12 for left-handers), and a Pro Series model comes in 8.5 and 9.5-degree lofts (right hand only). The Pro Series has neutral face angles, but the standard models offer a draw bias to make it easier to square up the clubface. Both models carry a suggested retail price of $500.
 
MAKE ME A COPY OF THIS: Not all the sponsorship news is bad this year. The PGA Tour has signed a deal with Kinkos Inc. to become title sponsor of the Kinkos Classic of Austin (Texas), and to create a marketing alliance.
 
This is the first time a PGA Tour-related event will come to Austin since the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf relocated after the 1994 tournament. The new, 54-hole tournament will have a $1.6 million purse, and will be contested over The Hills Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus design. The inaugural event is set for the week of May 5, 2003.
 
As for the marketing link-up, Kinkos will be the Tours official document services provider, receiving tournament site, broadcast and print exposure, as well as the increased advertising opportunities involved in most PGA Tour marketing alliances. Kinkos claims to be the worlds largest document services company, employing 20,000 at 1,100 digitally connected locations.
 
Hey, while were on the subject, can they make a copy of Tiger Woods?
 
FATHER AND SON OPEN ANOTHER ONE: Speaking of The Hills and Jack Nicklaus: The Bear and his son, Jack Nicklaus II (do I get credit for avoiding the obvious Cub joke?) have opened the first course in Texas that they have co-designed. Flintrock Hills is the second 18 at The Hills, so named because of its proximity to Texas legendary hill country (translation: You better be able to play in wind). Nicklaus Senior commented that the terrain (and therefore, the routing) has nice movement, which is a high compliment from a man who values good flow in a golf course.
 
The Hills is a ClubCorp property, the tenth club with Nicklaus designs that ClubCorp has opened or managed. ClubCorp, the Dallas-based club management company with more than $1.6 billion in assets, hooked up with Jack Nicklaus in 1998 for a special marketing union. The result has been a number of courses, including the Bears Best tracks in Las Vegas and Atlanta. Those courses feature recreations of holes from some of the 200-plus golf courses Nicklaus has designed since 1967.
 
OCEANS OPEN: Jack Nicklaus began his design career in collaboration with the famed (and infamous) Pete Dye. Jacks mentor has been busy on his own ever since, most recently with the updating of one of his most notable creations. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.) has just reopened after its owners let the Diabolical Dye at it again.
 
Word is Dye made subtle but substantial changes. The 18th green complex will be most noticeable; its now 25 yards closer to the ocean, which is what Dye says he intended all along.
 
But its not all hit-and-heartache. The landing area for drives on No. 2 was enlarged, and the second (!) marsh crossing on that hole got new bulkheads. That should make it easier to see, so players will be able to prepare and hit less shots that will trickle into the wetlands.
 
All in all, the course is an improved challenge, says Dye. But with the second shot on 18 almost directly facing the ocean, its still a heart-thumper. My suggestion: Do what I did at Carnoustie. Check your ego at the door and have fun.