January 7 2014
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider
Although Dustin Johnson came up short in his bid to win back-to-back Hyundai Tournament of Champions titles, the eight-time PGA TOUR winner still managed to do something notable at Kapalua, becoming the first TaylorMade staffer to use the company's new Tour Preferred MB irons.
Johnson, like a majority of professional golfers, is incredibly particular when it comes to his irons. After opening the 2013 season with RocketBladez Tour, Johnson went back to his old Tour Preferred MB irons at the Northern Trust Open and kept them in the bag for the remainder of the season, before switching to the new version at the winners-only event.
"It's a comfort thing with a lot of these players," said Bret Wahl, TaylorMade's vice president of research and development for irons and putters. "We needed to get this line exactly right. It's been a couple of years (since we released a Tour Preferred iron), but the time was now with the refinements and the addition of the Speed Pocket. We thought it was a great time to make that technology for the best players in the world."
Whether Johnson sticks with the new irons remains to be seen, but over the past month, TaylorMade has watched some marquee names transition into all three Tour Preferred iron models.
Along with Johnson switching to Tour Preferred MB, Sergio Garcia won the Thailand Golf Championship with Tour Preferred MC. U.S. Open winner Justin Rose also added a combo set of Tour Preferred CB long irons and MC short irons at the European Tour's Nedbank Golf Challenge.
According to Wahl, the TOUR feedback on Tour Preferred has been extremely positive.
"I've been here quite a few years and when you bring something out on TOUR, there's always something that's not quite right," Wahl said. "It's part of the deal to hear feedback from the players on something they want altered or changed in the future.
"Players know what they want and don't want. But I can tell you from all my years here that this has been the smoothest, most seamless transition. Guys like Justin (Rose) and Sergio (Garcia) are putting them right in the bag."
One of the key differences between the previous Tour Preferred line and the new version is the addition of the company's updated Speed Pocket technology to the sole of the MC and CB irons -- a 2mm-wide slot that, when flexed and rebounded at impact, increases ball speeds in the lower portion of the clubface for consistent launch conditions.
By utilizing the technology in a better player iron, TaylorMade engineers were able to get launch angles and spin rates that weren't possible the last time the company rolled out a Tour Preferred line in 2011.
As far as buzz goes, the Tour Preferred MC ($1,000) could be the most talked-about model in the line. The long and mid irons (3- through 7-iron) are made from 431 stainless steel and feature a muscle-cavity with the Speed Pocket technology in the sole.
"The Speed Pocket is similar to the one in Tour Preferred CB, but it has it in a way that's a little bit less aggressive of an execution," Wahl said. "For people who are looking for a little more consistency and a little higher flight but don't want to give up the look or feel, this is a great happy medium."
The short irons (8-PW) are forged from 1025 carbon steel -- a softer material that offers more feel -- and have a smaller cavity that gives it a similar look to that of a muscleback. The grooves were also milled to improve spin on shots from the rough.
The Tour Preferred CB ($900) is the most forgiving iron in the line. Cast from 17-4 stainless steel, the 3- through 7-iron feature the company's Speed Pocket technology in the sole, as well as “micro-slots” that promote faster ball speed across the face and a higher launch.
While the Tour Preferred CB has a similar look to the game-improvement SpeedBlade iron, Wahl was quick to point out that there are differences that make this an iron for better players.
"We're basically taking everything we've learned over the past few years about the Speed Pocket and putting it into an iron for better players," Wahl said. "We refined the sole and the topline, worked on the amount of offset. I think better players are going to like the final product."
A badge was also added to the back cavity that reduces vibration and improves feel at impact. The short irons, which are cast from 431 stainless steel, are compact with minimal offset, while the long- and mid-irons are slightly larger with progressive offset for more stability.
Forged from 1025 carbon steel, the Tour Preferred MB ($1,100) is the most traditional model in the line and doesn't feature a slot in the sole of the long- and mid-irons.
Instead of adding technology to the head, refinements were made to the bounce on the sole and the transition from the topline to the hosel. The tuning port that was part of the 2011 Tour Preferred MB was eliminated, giving the new version a sleeker, more classic look.
"There's not a lot you can do when it comes to the technology on the MB head," Wahl said. "Our old muscleback was very popular on TOUR, but there were a few things with the bounce on the sole and the shape of the transition from the hosel to the blade that they wanted to change. This iron is perfect for better players who don't needed the added forgiveness and like the work the ball both ways."
All three models in the new TaylorMade Tour Preferred line are now available and come with KBS Tour shafts.
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