Titleist back in Tiger's bag, but not Phil's Titleist

Updated: July 30, 2003, 4:05 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

When Tiger Woods put his old Titleist driver in the bag Monday night -- with Phil Mickelson in his presence, no less -- you could hear the snickers all the way from California.

Tiger and Phil
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods talked during the Battle of the Bridges, but chances are Tiger's 'inferior' equipment didn't come up in the diuscussion.

Wasn't this confirmation that Woods was, indeed, playing with inferior equipment, as Mickelson had suggested earlier this year?

Not necessarily. But in a golf world that dissects in detail every move the game's best player makes, it sure made for an interesting discussion.

Woods, who early in the 2002 season began using a Nike driver, put it aside Monday night during the nationally televised "Battle at the Bridges'' and switched to a Titleist 975D driver that he started using in 1997. The club will almost definitely still be in his bag this week at the Buick Open and in two weeks at the PGA Championship.

"I wanted to go back to something I've played well with in the past,'' Woods said after he and Ernie Els lost to Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.

Where they're playing


This week:
Buick Open
Site:
Grand Blanc, Mich.
Course:
Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club (7,127 yards, par 72)
Television:
Thursday: 4-6 pm ET (USA)
Friday: 4-6 pm ET (USA)
Saturday: 3-4 pm ET (CBS)
Sunday: 3-4 pm ET (CBS)
Defending champ:
Tiger Woods


This week:
Women's British Open
Site:
Lytham St. Annes, England
Course:
Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club (6,308 yards, par 72)
Television:
Thursday: 10 a.m.-noon (TNT)
Friday: 10 a.m.-noon (TNT)
Saturday: 2-3:30 pm ET (ABC)
Sunday: 2:30-4 pm ET (ABC)
Defending champ:
Karrie Webb


This week:
FleetBoston Classic
Site:
Concord, Mass.
Course:
Nashawtuc Country Club (6,729 yards, par 72)
Television:
Friday: 1:30-4:30 pm ET (TGC)
Saturday: 1:30-4:30 pm ET (TGC)
Sunday: 1:30-4:30 pm ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Bob Gilder


This week:
Scandinavian Masters
Site:
Loddekopinge, Sweden
Course:
Barseback Golf and Country Club (7,323 yards, par 72)
Television:
Thursday: 9 am-noon ET (TGC)
Friday: 9 am-noon ET (TGC)
Saturday: 9 am-noon ET (TGC)
Sunday: 9 am-noon ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Graeme McDowell


This week:
Chattanooga Classic
Site:
Chattanooga, Tenn.
Course:
Black Creek Club (7,004 yards, par 72) 71)
Television:
None
2002 champ:
Inaugural event

The move has the golf world buzzing. Woods has struggled with his driver this year, and ditching a club made by the company that pays him millions to endorse its products appears to be a huge acknowledgement that something is amiss.

But don't automatically assume that Woods is making the move because the Nike driver he has been using is "inferior.''

In fact, if anything, the Titleist driver is "inferior'' to the Nike driver he's been using.

Actually, "inferior'' is a bad word.

The Titleist club simply is not as advanced, in terms of technology, as clubs on the market today. According to the Associated Press, the Titleist 975D is not sold anymore. It has been replaced by fancier models that have bigger clubheads and thinner faces.

Those attributes, while craved by the average golfer, are not necessary for Woods, who could probably still lead the money list with a persimmon driver.

But with the high-tech stuff Nike has put in his hands, Woods is just 128th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour this year, hitting the fairway just more than 64 percent of the time. His driving distance has slipped, too. Woods is just 24th, averaging 293.4 yards. Last year, a similar driving distance ranked sixth.

In other words, other players have been flying past him with equipment that helps them hit the ball farther.

The stats, of course, are misleading. Woods could hit the ball farther if he tried. He has elected to scale back in recent years, knowing that distance is not everything.

But it is interesting that, for the first time, Woods has gone back to something old after switching to Nike.

"Tiger Woods can play any piece of equipment he chooses,'' said a statement released by the Nike public relations department. "He's unhappy with the way he's been driving the ball and has chosen to make a change to something he's more familiar with ... his old driver.

"Prior to this, Nike Golf has presented Tiger with options that take advantage of the latest in technology, but Tiger prefers a smaller, slower set-up to the larger, faster heads that 99 percent, or more than 40 of Nike Golf's Tour staff players, prefer -- the same new forged titanium technology from Nike Golf that thousands of amateurs are using to achieve greater distance and more forgiveness.

"This shift does not affect our relationship in any way; in fact, we will begin testing new designs with Tiger at the earliest convenient date.''

Call it spin control, but you can bet there is a good deal of truth to the Nike spiel. The company will do its best to put something together that works for Woods. It made sure to point out that Woods is still using Nike irons and a Nike ball.

And, don't forget, Woods won nine times using the Nike driver, including the 2002 Masters and U.S. Open.

In the meantime, he's going back to "inferior' technology.

Interesting.

The Question
How will Ben Curtis fare in his first tournament after winning the British Open?
Curtis jumped from 396th to 35th in the World Ranking after winning the British, then skipped out on last week's Greater Hartford Open to enjoy his moment in the sun. It's back to work this week at the Buick.

Five Things To Watch This Week
1. Woods has made a habit of defending his titles, and he won the Buick Open last year.

2. Annika Sorenstam will attempt to complete a career Grand Slam with a victory at the Women's British Open, played at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's, England. Sorenstam has captured the U.S. Women's Open, Kraft Nabisco Championship and earlier this year, the LPGA Championship.

3. Will the year of the veteran continue? Six of the past 12 PGA Tour winners have been 40 or older, including the last two -- Craig Stadler and Peter Jacobsen -- the fifth-and seventh-oldest players ever to win on tour.

4. Curtis gets to experience life as a major champion beginning this week, as he plays in his first event since winning the British Open.

5. After a dizzying number of majors, the Champions Tour returns to a regular event with the FleetBoston Classic, where Bob Gilder is the defending champion.

THE COURSE: WARWICK HILLS
Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc, Mich., has been home to the Buick Open for all but six years since the tournament's inception in 1958. It is 7,127 yards, par-72. Robert Wrenn set the tournament record in 1987 when he shot 262, a whopping 26 under par. The course yields a lot of low numbers, and Kenny Perry came within one stroke of the record with his victory two years ago.

Three of the four par-5 holes are easily reachable in two, which helps explain the low scoring. But that's not to say there aren't difficult holes. Coming in, the par-4, 457-yard 15th offers a stiff challenge, especially when the hole plays into the wind. Trees and out of bounds on the left require an accurate drive and the hole has typically ranked in the top 100 toughest on the PGA Tour.

If Woods is to defend his title at Warwick Hills, he'll have to overcome some history. Only Tony Lema in 1964-65 won the tournament in back-to-back years.

THE CONTENDERS

Defending champion Tiger Woods has finished no worse than 11th in his four previous Buick Open appearances.

Look for U.S. Open Jim Furyk to bounce back from his disappointing performance at the British Open, where he missed the cut.

Kenny Perry has got to be worn out, this being his fourth tournament in a row, including the British Open. But he's been in the top-10 in six straight events, including three victories. We'll see if the hot streak continues.

LONG SHOTS

Two weeks ago, Ben Curtis would never have got a mention. Now, as the British Open champion and with the spotlight upon him, it's too much to think that he could pull of consecutive victories.

Before his victory Sunday, Peter Jacobsen's last two wins were back-to-back. Does he do it again?

Fred Funk tied for second last year, starting a run of high finishes. Does he join the 40-somethings atop another leaderboard.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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