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  • EQUIPMENT

    Why the irons Tiger Woods used to win the '97 Masters were unique for the times

  • Tiger Woods won by 12 strokes at the 1997 Masters Tournament. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Tiger Woods won by 12 strokes at the 1997 Masters Tournament. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

A lot has changed in the world of golf since Tiger Woods' historic 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters. It could be debated that no area has gone through a more dramatic transformation than the improvements in golf club technology that have occurred over the past two decades.

To put things into perspective, when Woods won his first Masters, he still played True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 steel shafts in all of his clubs, including the woods, and employed a King Cobra Deep Face driver made from a durable 17-4 stainless steel — a material that offered very little forgiveness, when compared to the 460cc head that's today's TOUR standard, and has since been replaced by titanium and lightweight carbon fiber. 

There was also something about Woods' setup that made him somewhat of an equipment trailblazer at the time. Woods employed a split set of Mizuno irons at the Masters that consisted of MP-29 long irons (2-5) and MP-14 mid and short irons (5-PW).

These days, it's fairly commonplace to stroll down the range and find a Tour player or two with a split set. The most popular split set blueprint consists of long irons with slightly more offset, forgiveness and a higher launch, and short irons that offer more workability in a compact package.

However, when Woods first started out on TOUR, he was one of the only players who played two different iron models. According to Jeff Cook, Mizuno's PGA TOUR Manager who started back with the company in 1997, most of the players on staff played a full set of MP-14's or MP-29's.

"I've been here long enough to have seen all the trends, and for whatever reason, the iron model a player used, he almost always played the entire set back then," Cook said. "That included guys like Payne Stewart and Nick Faldo. I would say [Tiger] was one of the first that I can think of that had a split set, and that was 20 years ago. It's way more common today than it was back then."

Of course, there was a method to Woods' setup — and it had to do with offset. Even back when he was first getting his feet wet out on TOUR, Woods was meticulous about the offset on his irons.

"For him it was all about trying to get the least amount of offset in his entire iron set," Cook said. "You have to remember that Tiger played Mizuno irons going back to his time in junior golf and at [Stanford University], so he was well versed in our product. When you spend that much time around something, you start to pick up on subtle differences."

One of the differences Woods noticed was the subtle change in offset from the long to the short irons in the MP-14 and MP-29. The MP-29 provided less offset in the long irons than the MP-14 and vice versa in the mid and short irons. 

"For Tiger, he realized that when you comboed those irons he could get the least amount of offset," Cook said. "I don't really remember anyone else doing that. I still think that's one of the most unique things he did 20 years ago that no one else was doing."

From a specs perspective, Woods' irons at the time were basically a stock set that could be purchased off the rack.

"There was nothing goofy that he did with his irons, no special grinds or alteration," Cook said. "The interesting thing is he's stayed pretty true for most of his career to what he used early on. He still uses basically the same specs that he had 20 years ago. He's still back there using 49 or 50 degrees on his pitching wedge, which is really impressive. He never strengthened the lofts like a lot of todays' players. There really hasn't been a lot of change on his irons."

Woods continued to use the Mizuno combo set during the 1997 season before eventually switching Titleist blades. His time with Mizuno's MP-14 and MP-29 irons remains the only time in his professional career that he used a true split set. 

It seems fitting that the unique iron setup helped produce the win that vaulted Woods to superstardom. 

Tiger Woods' 1997 Masters equipment setup

Driver: King Cobra Deep Face* (True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shaft), 9 degrees

3-wood: Titleist PT 15 (True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shaft), 15 degrees

Irons: Mizuno MP-29 (2-4; True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts), MP-14 (5-PW; True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts).

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTG (56 and 60 degrees; True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts)

Putter:
 Scotty Cameron Newport TeI3

Ball: Titleist Professional 90