Ordinarily, golf fans and equipment junkies do not pay much attention to the driver used by the guy ranked 104th in strokes gained: off-the-tee on the PGA Tour, but Tiger Woods is not an ordinary golfer.
At the height of his powers, in 2000 and 2001, Woods not only was among the longest hitters on Tour, he hit more than 70 percent of the fairways. Injuries, swing changes and time away from competitive golf have eroded his accuracy off the tee, but Woods has shown in recent weeks that even after multiple back surgeries, he is capable of producing numbers that rank alongside elite drivers on Tour.
Woods, 42, recently made subtle changes to his driver that have helped him achieve distance and speed gains.
Woods had used a driver shaft that weighed between 70 and 75 grams for years, and when he returned to action at the Hero World Challenge in 2016 – a few months after Nike announced it no longer would make clubs, balls or golf bags – Woods opted to use a 9.5-degree TaylorMade M2 driver fitted with a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70TX shaft. When he returned to action at the 2017 Hero World Challenge in December, he again used a TaylorMade M2 with a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70 TX shaft.
Before the Genesis Open in February at Riviera, having driven the ball poorly two weeks before at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods switched the shaft on his new TaylorMade M3 driver to a Matrix TP6HDe shaft that weighs 65 grams. A change of 5 to 10 grams may not seem like a lot, but to a pro, it is significant and should result in a player being able to swing the club a little faster.
Woods also noted he had added about 0.75 degrees of loft, with his M3 now set at 10.25 degrees, and that the spin rate was better.
During NBC’s broadcast of the Valspar Championship on Sunday, commentator Notah Begay – a longtime friend and former college teammate of Woods – mentioned that Woods also tinkered with the length of his driver recently. “He was in a 44 3/4-inch driver for a while, went to 45 inches and now is back to 44 1/4 to about 44 1/2 inches,” Begay said before Woods teed off to start the final round.
That length range is fairly standard for PGA Tour players, but it is worth noting that Woods played a 43 1/2-inch driver for many years.
If two clubs have the same weight but different lengths, the longer club will have a higher swing weight and will feel heavier during a swing. So while adding length could boost Woods’ clubhead speed a touch, the more significant result of going to a slightly longer shaft could be a change in feel. The longer, lighter driver might feel similar to the old driver that was slightly shorter but heavier.
Woods also has done a significant amount of tinkering with the moveable weights in his TaylorMade M3 this season. In the photo below, taken during the Wednesday pro-am before the Farmers Insurance Open, the two weights are both in the center channel, which should reduce spin and launch angle while boosting ball speed and maintaining a neutral side-to-side weight bias.
In the photo below, taken during Sunday’s final round at the same event, it is clear that both weights were moved.
This split positioning would increase spin and launch angle, and because the weights are pushed toward the perimeter of the head, this set-up would boost the moment of inertia and increase forgiveness. It appears the weight in the toe is slightly farther along the channel than the weight in the heel, so this setup would have a slight fade bias.
Two weeks later, after making the shaft change and going with more loft, Woods reconfigured the weights in this driver again before the Genesis Open. As can be seen in the photo below, one weight was positioned forward and one was just into the fade channel.
A week later, before the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa, the image below shows Woods again tweaked the weight settings in his driver. The weight in the fade channel appears to be in the same spot, but the weight in the center channel is farther back than at Riviera.
Testing equipment on the range or in practice rounds at home is smart, but trusting it in the heat of battle on the PGA Tour is something else entirely. Woods has played only 13 measured rounds this season, so it’s understandable he is still honing the combination of the new TaylorMade M3 head, his shaft and his Bridgestone Tour B XS ball.
As Woods likes to say, it’s a process, and this one may continue all season as he looks to sharpen his driving.