If it's the British Open, it must be driving iron time
Tiger Woods famously chose a conservative strategy and won the Claret Jug last time the Open Championship was contested at Hoylake, in 2006. He used his driver only once on a baked and brown links, opting for his 2-iron numerous times off the tee so as to avoid pot bunkers scattered throughout the fairways.
There are two main reasons driving irons could be especially popular at this week’s Open Championship, again at Hoylake. The first is the weather, and the second is the increasing ability of manufacturers to make strong-lofted irons that are playable.
By definition, links golf courses are situated in areas between the sea and the land. They're sandy, dune-filled places where the wind blows shots into gorse, heather and pot bunkers. Royal Liverpool is on the edge of the River Dee and the Irish Sea, and golfers in practice rounds over the weekend had to contend with 20- to 30-mph breezes. A key to success at Royal Liverpool, and at any links course, is to control ball flight and keep shots below the wind.
Hybrid clubs typically hit shots higher than a long iron of the same loft, because hybrids have a lower center of gravity. Hybrids also typically have longer shafts – often graphite instead of steel – and feature wider, more-forgiving soles. They are great for people who have trouble hitting long irons, but fast-swinging players sometimes want more control on windy courses.
Golf companies have improved long irons with compact, hollow-bodied clubheads that appeal to accomplished players. By strategically positioning weight, they have increased forgiveness. In other words, today's 2-irons make it easier to keep a ball below the wind while still being easier to hit than the venerable butter knives of days gone by.
Asked on Monday if he planned to carry a 2-iron this year at Royal Liverpool, defending champion Phil Mickelson affirmed that was his plan.
"I have two clubs that are specific to this tournament, a 2-iron and a 64-degree wedge that has very little bounce," Mickelson said. "Those two clubs I basically put away after this event, and I bring them back out in July again. But they've been very important and instrumental in my success here, 2- or 3-iron. This week it will be a 2-iron."
Justin Rose said Tuesday that he plans to use his 2-iron quite a lot this week.
"TaylorMade has a new UDI club, which is like a hybrid but more like an iron," he said. "There is a 1-, 2- and 3-iron version of that. I used the 3-iron version of the club in Washington and the 2-iron version of the club last week. This week, I might actually use the 1-iron version."
Rory McIlroy posted a photo of a prototype Nike MM 2-iron before the start of last week's Scottish Open:
Adam Scott used a 21-degree Titleist 910H hybrid when he came in second to Ernie Els at the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, then switched to an 18-degree Titleist 712U 2-iron, won the 2013 Masters with it and came in third last season at Muirfield.
While they are not driving irons in a strict sense, several pros supplement their set with a game-improvement long-iron, using it off the tee like a driving iron on tight par-4s and long par-3s
Luke Donald frequently uses a Mizuno MP-H4 3-iron, as he did at Pinehurst during the U.S. Open. Rickie Fowler often carries a Cobra AMP Forged 3-iron fitted with a Matrix OZIK hM2 graphite shaft.
Here are some driving irons that you might see this week at Royal Liverpool and later this season on Tour.
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Ping Rapture D.I. 2-iron
Ping designed this club with tungsten in the heel and toe to increase the moment of inertia and provide forgiveness. The body is made from 17-4 stainless steel and the face is 455 Carpenter steel, which is harder. Ping anticipates 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen and Billy Horschel will use Rapture 2-irons at Royal Liverpool.
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TaylorMade Tour Preferred UDI
UDI stands for Ultimate Driving Iron, and this club was officially released Monday. It features a hollow body and a slot in the soul that allows the face to flex more effectively at impact. Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open Championship winner, had TaylorMade make him an 18-degree UDI 2-iron.
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Titleist designed this club with a flat face, which should help golfers hit a draw or fade more easily. It has a thin topline, and it's forged from 1025 carbon steel with a 455 stainless steel face that the company says increases ball speed.