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There was a time when the 3-wood was considered a transition club for your longer irons, but it was relegated to limited duty when the smaller-headed hybrids came along. Now, the 3-wood is making a comeback, as far as a second-shot club.

While still a preferred option off the tee on short par 4s and narrow driving holes, many of today’s 3-woods are versatile enough to be hit from the rough or the short grass, giving the average golfer a chance to hit the green on long approach shots where the hybrid won’t get them there.

“They’re going to help the golfer get as close to the green as possible on the second shot,” said Gidge Moody, product line manager for metal woods at Nike Golf.

Nike SQ Dymo Fairway WoodWhile today’s fairway woods are performing more like hybrids, their head shapes still remain distinctly different. Most fairway woods are larger in depth from the face to the back of the head, whereas the hybrids are designed to look more like an iron to give off a feel of more precision.

“Our engineers have gotten very talented at placing the center of gravity (CG) properly,” said Moody. “We can make fairway woods that go low or go high, with more or less spin. It depends on what type of performance the player is looking for.”

Here are several of the top performing fairway woods on the market today.

Nike SQ Dymo fairway woods

In testing the 3-wood it's almost as easy to hit from a fairway lie as a hybrid. This is due to the Quad Keel design on the sole of the club, which minimizes turf interaction to help get the ball airborne from any lie. It's shaped like four quadrants – or planes – although the Quad Keel in the 3-wood is not as abrupt as on the other woods.

The two quadrants farthest from the clubface are angled down so less of the head is touching the ground at impact. The two forward quadrants are designed to contact the turf but with minimal resistance, so the clubhead doesn’t twist offline as easily or lose much clubhead speed.

The CG in the lower-lofted woods is placed higher and more forward, toward the face, to create less spin and a more penetrating ball flight, whereas the higher-lofted models feature a lower, deeper CG to increase spin and launch the ball higher. The SQ Dymo also features a matted, black textured finish on the crown to reduce glare.

Players using the SQ Dymo fairway woods on the PGA Tour include Anthony Kim and David Duval. It comes in lofts of 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 degrees (15, 17 and 19 degrees for left-handers).

Big Bertha Diablo fairway woods

Big brother (the Diablo driver) receives most of the attention, but the Diablo line also extends to fairway woods ($179 steel, $199 graphite). Like the driver, the 3-wood comes in a neutral and draw-biased head Callaway Big Bertha Diablo Fairway Woodfor those golfers who need extra help combating their slice. The crown on the draw head is skewed toward the heel of the club so that as you look down at address, the head looks to be pointing right of the target. This helps you visualize the proper path on the takeaway, which is to the inside. Most slicers tend to take the club back to the outside and then swing down into impact from outside-in. The shape of the Diablo promotes the proper inside track into the ball.
 
At the same time, the face of the draw head (available in 16, 18.5, 21 and 23.5 degrees) is slightly closed, to help reduce the possibility of hitting a slice. The shaping of the head also allows more mass to be moved toward the heel of the club, which helps create a draw.

The neutral head (available in 13, 15 and 18 degrees) is slightly smaller than the draw head and is designed for better players and Tour players. Phil Mickelson carries a 13-degree neutral 3-wood.
 
The face on both heads is relatively shallow, and designed so that the leading edge sits very close to the ground. This gives off the appearance that the head is sitting below the ball, which gives the average golfer more confidence that they can get the ball up in the air.
 
Ping G15 and i15 fairway woods

Both of Ping’s new offerings in fairway woods are designed to perform from all types of lies and conditions. The G15 is the game improvement club, and features a very long, low profile along the lines of the old Ping G15 and i15 Fairway WoodsAdams Tight Lies clubs. The shallow face design should appeal to the mid- to high-handicap golfer who likes a larger head size.

The G15 ($230 MSRP) also comes in a draw version; an external weight pad is positioned farther back (from the face) and closer to the heel to promote a right-to-left ball. The G15 comes in lofts of 15.5 (3-wood), 17 (4-wood), 18.5 (5-wood) and 21.5 degrees (7-wood), while the G15 Draw is available in the 3-, 4- and 5-woods.

The better player’s club is the i15 ($265 MSRP), which is still fairly large from heel to toe, but is weighted differently to produce lower-spinning shots and a more medium trajectory. It comes in a strong 3-wood (14 degrees), 3-wood (15.5 degrees) and 5-wood (18.5 degrees).