New Math At Players
Taylormade Burner Superfast: Fairway woods received plenty of use at the Players, including this model played by Chris Couch, among others.
Let's Leave the addition of the Players as a fifth major to Al Barkow and others. This space instead will focus on subtraction: namely the number of pros taking the driver out of play at TPC Sawgrass during tournament week.
How much does Pete Dye's design remove the big stick from the equation? Consider that the leader in driving distance for the week was J.B. Holmes at 303.5 yards. Only five times in 20 previous events had the tournament leader in distance averaged less than that number. Holmes spoke to his strategy at Sawgrass.
"The public always assumes that all you do is hit drivers," Holmes said after hitting the club only five times in his first-round 66. "You don't keep your card by hitting driver all the time. You've really got to work your way around."
For Phil Mickelson, that meant keeping the headcover on the driver on the 18th Saturday and debating whether to use a 3-wood or a 3-iron off the tee on the 455-yard par 4. Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington also noticed the need to keep the ball on the short grass -- while still taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the four par 5s. "I think it is essential to hit as many fairways as you can this week, and at times take a cautious approach off the tee," he said, "but be a bit more aggressive on the par 5s, and see where it goes from there."
Caution off the tee was also on U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover's mind. He essentially used his 13- degree Nike SQ Sumo 3-wood as a second driver during the Players.
"A lot of 3-woods and hit a lot of greens," said Glover. reviewing Saturday's round when he only hit four drivers -- on the four par 5s. "I can't get to these pins from out of the rough. And whether that's laying back to a mid-iron, that's better for me than a 9-iron out of the rough." In all, 63 of the 145 players in the field used a 3-wood with 13.5 degrees -- or less -- of loft, including Tiger Woods, who went from 15 degrees to 13 degrees on his Nike SQ Sumo 3-wood.
Although Pete Dye's design at TPC Sawgrass has always emphasized accuracy over power off the tee, this year's Players brought an additional variable into the decision-making equation: the new grooves. Although the impact of the less-effective grooves has been statistically negligible this year, do not assume it has not affected strategy at times.
"Absolutely," said Glover when asked if the grooves impacted his decision to hit driver less often. "I'm not very good out of that four-inch Bermuda with our new grooves."
Added Mickelson, "I believe the grooves [have] an impact. When you go in the rough, you're getting fliers with these grooves. So this would be the most noticeable event for the effects that the grooves should have."
And nowhere was it more noticeable than in the players' choice of club off the tee.
Ping unveiled its latest wedge line -- the Tour-S -- to its tour pros at the Players. The model, which will eventually replace the Tour-W in the Ping lineup, is intriguing in that players have their choice of clubheads (17-4 stainless steel or a softer 8620 carbon steel) and two finishes (brushed silver chrome and rust).
Tim Clark won the Players but did not follow in Jerry Pate's footsteps by winning the title using a colored golf ball. Clark, who has used Srixon's Z-Star Tour Yellow ball most of the year, changed to the conventional white version at TPC Sawgrass...Sergio Garcia clearly doesn't suffer from arachnophobia. At the Players Garcia used Softspikes' new Tour Silk Black Widow grips. Softspikes entered the grip category earlier this year...A change to TaylorMade's Burner SuperFast driver (8.5 degrees) seemed to help Players runner-up Robert Allenby. For the week Allenby was T-17 in accuracy, an improvement over his T-80 coming into the week. Interestingly, Allenby wasn't going to use the club at the Players but decided to put it in the bag after testing it on the course Wednesday afternoon...It appears that Kenny Perry hasn't given up on the Ping Craz-E style of putter just yet. After repeated attempts to fix his old putter and return it to its prior feel, Perry (T-22) used a Ping Karsten Series Craz-E at TPC Sawgrass. Perry also used a set of TaylorMade 360 irons during the Players. The clubs were not Perry's old 360s, but rather a new set of the old model with conforming grooves. "We made a small batch of V-groove [360s] a long time ago and found one set remaining at the factory," said TaylorMade rep Paul Loegering.