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Equipment free agency: Rose, Woodland highlight 2019 moves

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HONOLULU – The year’s first full-field PGA Tour event is normally a time to assess the annual free-agent signings with players trotting out new equipment deals. But compared to previous years, this offseason proved to be relatively quiet.

The highlight of the new signings is Justin Rose’s move from TaylorMade to Honma, a Hong Kong-based equipment manufacturer. The deal requires Rose, who moved back to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking this week, to play 10 of the company’s clubs, including the driver, but the reigning FedExCup champion will continue to use the TaylorMade TP5 golf ball.

Another potential marquee move is Francesco Molinari, who played Callaway clubs last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and used a bag with no logos. A company official for Callaway said the 2018 Open champion is currently not under contract with the company.

Callaway did confirm, however, that it added Kevin Na to its staff.

Last week’s runner-up Gary Woodland switched to Wilson clubs and Charles Howell III, who won the RSM Classic in the fall, has returned to playing Titleist clubs and the company’s golf ball. Former Open champion Stewart Cink is now using Ping equipment.

“I started testing after Asia,” Woodland said. “I had a bunch of stuff sent in, a bunch of drivers, a bunch of irons, and I just fell in love with the irons.”

It appears likely there will be more free-agent announcements in the next few weeks. Sources confirmed to Golf Channel that Honma is pursuing another player to add to its staff along with Rose, and Rickie Fowler could be switching to a TaylorMade golf ball.

Last season’s most interesting trend will likely continue in 2019. All three of last year’s major champions – Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Molinari – don’t have endorsement deals to play a particular golf ball. All three play the Titleist golf ball but are not under contract.