STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: adamsgolf.comLOFTS13, 15, 18 in a3; 15, 18, 21, 24 in a3OSTECH STORYUsing its hybrid knowledge to address the needs of different types of players, Adams has developed two hybrid-like fairway woods. Both feature "boxer" technology (that is, stretched corners) to increase the moment of inertia without constraining the center-of-gravity location. The regular a3 has a CG closer to the face; the a3OS has a 10-percent higher MOI. Shaft lengths were shortened by half an inch to help average golfers contact the center of the face more frequently.PLAYER COMMENTS"There's no arguing with the results. It's incredibly solid. . . . This club just takes the ball up into the air by itself. . . . Stable is the key word. It has the most stability on mis-hits."HOTAdams is boldly attempting to meld the best of fairway woods and hybrids into a new breed of club -- an impressive way to take advantage of all the benefits of shape, size and length. Sole engineering is subtle, inventive, effective.NOTSquare is still not a natural look.
STREET PRICE $250WEBSITE: callawaygolf.comLOFTS15, 17, 19, 21, 23; 13 and 15 (Tour)TECH STORYThe club has a stainless-steel face and body and a tungsten-infused soleplate that accounts for 44 percent of the clubhead's weight. The dual-runner sole helps with turf interaction, and the leading edge has been lowered to work better with more types of swings. OptiFit allows for draw or neutral weighting.PLAYER COMMENTS"This baby's coming home with me. It really performs well. No bad feeling at impact. . . . Ball flies high off any lie. . . . An excellent look, with power. The ball just seemed to penetrate what slight headwind we had, while others ballooned."HOTThe look of a player's club with technology that works for all levels. Replacing Callaway's iconic S2H2 hosel will appeal to better players.NOTCallaway has done more with multiple materials than anyone. Makes one wonder why a composite crown wasn't incorporated into this high-end product.
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: callawaygolf.comLOFTS15, 18, 21; 13 and 15 (Tour)TECH STORYThe X fairway features the modified X-sole design used in the X hybrid. The purpose is to lower the leading edge for better turf interaction. A slightly larger head (175 cubic centimeters versus 160cc in the FT 3-wood) and internal perimeter weighting increase the MOI. In addition to standard 3-woods, the X Hot 3-wood with a longer shaft (44 inches) and larger head (202cc) is part of the series.PLAYER COMMENTS"Runway No. 2, you've got clearance. The ball takes off like a jet. . . . The shaft-head relationship felt very one-piece. It has that help-out-the-slow-swinger feel. . . . It's hard to hit this anywhere but straight."HOTA solid entry that maintains a proven Callaway fairway wood tradition. Deeper face translates to greater hitting area and more confidence.NOTDoesn't feature the cool face technology of the new driver or use the Carpenter steel found in the X Hot 3-wood. Not including a 9-wood, even in women's, seems wrong.
NIKE SQ SUMO2
STREET PRICE $230WEBSITE: nikegolf.comLOFTS13, 15, 17, 19, 21TECH STORYThe square shape pushes weight to the corners, increasing the MOI. A lightweight cryogenic-steel face helps improve ball speed and save weight. The "powerbow" weighting at the back of the head is designed to lower the CG and promote a higher launch angle.PLAYER COMMENTS"A little unorthodox. It's almost as long as a driver off the tee but performs like a smaller club from a tight lie. . . . Performance in a box. Good distance, solid. . . . Loved how it felt. Loved the trajectory and roll. The mis-hits were five yards off target at most."HOTIt would have been easy to take the Sumo2 gargantuan-driver philosophy and dump it into a fairway wood, but the smaller box is smarter and works nicely through the turf. Most important, it still contains the MOI benefits of its geometry. Stock shaft is a sturdy Diamana Graphite by Mitsubishi.NOTAddition of a 4-wood is clever, but not giving left-handers that option isn't.
STREET PRICE $220WEBSITE: pinggolf.comLOFTS14, 15.5, 17, 18.5, 21.5, 24; draw version in 15.5, 17, 18.5, 21.5TECH STORYThe thin, sloping crown intersects with the sole, and a skirtless design enables the repositioning of weight. An internal weight pad places the CG low and close to the face to increase the launch angle and mitigate damage from thinned shots.PLAYER COMMENTS"The audio was exactly right for a fairway wood. By far, the most crisp-feeling club I've hit. . . . Camber is nice for hitting shots out of less-than-perfect lies. . . . You can go down and dig it out and work it a little bit. . . . It's a workhorse, a John Deere tractor, a doer, not a talker. . . . Feels like a real-deal golf club. I hit the 4-wood as long as I hit most 3-woods. Feels very one-piece."HOTPlenty of thinking under the hood here. The improved CG location over the G5 allows lofts to be half a degree weaker yet produce the same playability. The 4-wood has been added to the line for those who need even more loft.NOTStill, a 43-inch 4-wood might be a bit much.
TAYLORMADE BURNER/BURNER TP
STREET PRICE $200 ($250 for TP version)WEBSITE: taylormadegolf.comLOFTS15, 18, 21; TP version available in 13, 14.5, 17.5TECH STORYThe company's "superfast" technology involves a lighter shaft and grip to promote a faster swing speed. A large clubhead (185cc on the 3-wood) raises the MOI. The "pull-face" construction frees designers to vary the face thickness more precisely to increase coefficient of restitution on off-center hits.PLAYER COMMENTS"This club takes me back to my childhood days when I'd scream: 'MINE!'. . . . It comes off the face consistently and goes high in the air. Toe hits, heel hits -- everything is just about perfect. . . . TP version is a better player's club that really performs time and again."HOTThe high-launch properties of the head-shaft combo neatly counter today's low-spin balls. The TP version serves the better player who's looking to control trajectory.NOTLarge-headed 3-wood might intimidate weaker players on tight lies. There's a built-in left bias on the standard model so you have to pay $50 more for a neutral setup.
BOBBY JONES PLAYERS SERIES
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: bobbyjonesgolf.comLOFTS13, 15, 17, 19TECH STORYThe three-piece clubhead has a 17-4 stainless-steel body, ultra-thin (0.35 millimeter) forged maraging steel in the crown and a thin (1.6 mm) Carpenter 465 face. Weight saved is moved to the rear sole to enhance the trajectory and to fortify what designer Jesse Ortiz calls "the triangle of stability" shape.PLAYER COMMENTS"This is a winner. The ball flies long and straight and comes off hot. . . . Wow, this went farther than anything I hit and is as solid as humanly possible. . . . I don't know what it is about this head shape, but no matter how I set it down it goes square. Fantastic."HOTThis club looks as if it belongs in the U.S. Golf Association's Golf House museum, but the appearance is the only thing throwback about it. Love the special steel face, and the lightweight brazed crown means no graphite composite. Result: better weight distribution without sacrificing sound and feel.NOTThe club is three years old. Where is Version 2.0?
CALLAWAY BIG BERTHA
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: callawaygolf.comLOFTS16, 19, 22, 25TECH STORYA large head (200cc in 3-wood) and wide face help increase MOI. Callaway uses variable-face thickness to improve performance on off-center hits and to enhance perimeter weighting. The sole design features two subtle rails, helping the club sit in place without rocking. A white stripe across the top of the clubhead promotes proper alignment.PLAYER COMMENTS"Good feel, bore and audio. . . . White line across the top helps me align the club. . . . Made for the person who needs help getting the ball up in the air. . . . Too big and bulky, but boy does it go well."HOTIt's a club better players might overlook (their mistake) and weaker players might not fully appreciate (because it lets them hit difficult shots so easily). The secret might be the higher lofts.NOTThe 3-wood's bulkiness might cause some to consider a higher-lofted wood from the turf. Its natural left bias might trouble better players.
CLEVELAND HIBORE XLS
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: clevelandgolf.comLOFTS13, 15, 19, 22TECH STORYCleveland uses a scooped-out crown to help lower the clubhead's CG and line it up better with the center of the clubface. To improve the club's stability on off-center hits, the HiBore has been upgraded from last year's model to include a 24-percent increase in volume and a 19-percent increase in face width. The steeper scallops on the sidewalls of the crown help frame the ball at address. The Fujikura Fit-On M stock shaft comes in tip-firm (Red) and tip-flexible (Gold) options.PLAYER COMMENTS"Better-than-expected distance. . . . The cavity offsets the bulk. It sits cleanly on the fairway. . . . Very solid, especially on toe hits. . . . A good club for a broad range of players."HOTA very meaty sounding and feeling club, despite its unconventional look. Two versions of each shaft is unique and smart.NOTThe bigger profile and longer shafts aren't for everyone. Could use a 17-degree model, and left-handers have only two loft choices.
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: mizunousa.comLOFTS13.5, 15, 16.5, 18, 21TECH STORYThe ultra-thin titanium crown, which accounts for only 3 percent of the clubhead's weight, promotes a low CG. The stainless-steel face features three variable-thickness areas to help create a larger area of consistent face flex. A slot ring around the back edge helps position weight evenly around the perimeter.PLAYER COMMENTS"It's the best of the bunch at digging through bad lies. . . . The club has that perfect in-between feel of soft and strong. . . . The ball really pops off the clubface. . . . I liked it. Impact felt solid, and the ball seemed to stay in the air longer with it."HOTGood players will point out that it looks the way a fairway wood should. Like a fullback with speed, it hits with authority because of its compact size, keen use of materials and sleek brazing technique. The commitment to custom shaft options is special, too.NOTNo 4-wood or 7-wood for left-handers.
TAYLORMADE R7 CGB MAX
STREET PRICE $300WEBSITE: taylormadegolf.comLOFTS15, 18, 21TECH STORYThe triangular-shape head has three adjustable-weight screws (18 grams) for three ball flights (slight fade to large draw). The head shape also helps push the CG back to launch the ball higher. A large titanium head (205cc) increases MOI. An inverted-cone design is intended to improve off-center-hit ball speed.PLAYER COMMENTS"If you can't get this airborne, you should quit. . . . The pointy backside helps you take the club back the way you want to. . . . If you can get over the looks, it's a great club. . . . I didn't want to like it, but the ball jumped off the face."HOTTaylorMade takes its movable-weight technology to a less complex but still effective version. Plus, the shaft-clubhead combo has an unmatched devotion to speed (45-gram shaft, lighter overall club weight).NOTNatural left bias in "neutral" position might be irksome, but lack of higher lofts could be a bigger issue for a club that clearly has game improvement as its mission.
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: titleist.comLOFTS13.5, 15.5, 18.5TECH STORYBuilt with a lower CG and just a click more loft than the F2, the F4 is designed to be a higher-launching fairway wood. It's a smart use of multiple materials in a straightforward, shallow, pear-shape profile. A 431 stainless-steel body is enhanced with a special, thin Carpenter 275 steel face insert. The purpose is to save weight and increase ball speed. The sole's trailing edge is designed to minimize contact with the turf.PLAYER COMMENTS"Looks like a player's club. . . . The little head looks like you can hit it off anything. . . . Everything felt good, even mis-hits. . . . Attention to detail, right down to the lofts."HOTTitleist is slowly realizing that tour players aren't the only ones who might like to use their clubs. The extra help on this fairway wood is a nifty example, but the company hasn't strayed too far from its core values.NOTEasier to hit, yes, but still not for Average Joes. Note: no lofts above 18.5 degrees.
TOM WISHON 949MC
STREET PRICE $200WEBSITE: twgolftech.comLOFTS14, 16.5, 18, 21TECH STORYThe nearly impossible mission was to build a shallow-face fairway wood yet have the COR reach the USGA limit. The difficulty is when you have a small face (like in a typical fairway wood), it doesn't want to flex as much. Tom Wishon addressed this challenge by using a cup face made from a high-strength steel alloy, allowing the face to be just 1.7 mm thick. The design softens the curvature of the face, producing an almost-flat 30-inch roll, about twice the industry standard.PLAYER COMMENTS"This is a pure golf club. It's traditional in shape, yet hot. . . . The impact felt solid, and judging by the ball flight, that was not a deception. This one just went and went. . . . It's an excellent club off the tee on those holes you don't want to hit driver."HOTWishon's 515 GRT fairway wood opened new territory, and this upgrade has all the heat of the original with more playability.NOTAlignment mark on crown seems toe-biased.
TOUR EDGE EXOTICS XCG
STREET PRICE $350WEBSITE: touredge.comLOFTS13, 15, 16.5, 18, 21TECH STORYThe design uses two pieces: First, there's a one-piece cup face and crown made of titanium; second, there's a steel body, rear skirt and soleplate. The parts are joined by a weight-saving brazing technique to help produce a low and deep CG (lighter titanium on top, heavier steel on bottom). The sole is radiused four ways to improve ground contact.PLAYER COMMENTS"I'm gonna buy this, but don't tell my wife. . . . Feels like it explodes off the face. . . . You can really dig it out of bad lies. . . . The ball seems to come off this one faster than most of the others. Forgiving, too. . . . A little offset at address, but it sets open -- a good look for most better players."HOTHere's another design that pushes the COR limit, no small feat in fairway woods. The Exotics brand routinely challenges the paradigm with impressive results.NOTNothing for left-handers, and the price will be hard to justify for some.