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March 30 2011

7:20 PM

Equipment: Bellies, blades and the Bear

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Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Martin Laird won at the Arnold Palmer with a belly putter.

By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer

The allure of the belly putter was on full display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, as Martin Laird and Spencer Levin played in the final group all weekend with the longer flatsticks.

Are the unconventional putters a full-fledged trend on TOUR? Maybe not yet, but it’s worth noting that two of the top 30 in the world ranking now play with them – No. 28 Adam Scott (the full split-grip long putter) and Laird, who cracked the top 30 at No. 21 after winning at Bay Hill with a belly putter.

For Levin, the new putter has a complete game-changer. He switched after he secured his 2011 card late last year, and now he has three top-10s in his last six starts.

“When you're playing, you don't really think about it but looking back, I think I've obviously made more putts with it than I was before,” said Levin, who finished T2 in putts per round at Bay Hill.

“Since I got that belly putter, I've definitely noticed I've been making some more mid-range putts. Before with a normal putter, I was always good -- I was always a good short putter but I wasn't a very good 12- to 20-foot putter. (Now) I feel like I'm making a couple more a round, which is I think probably why I'm scoring better for sure.”

Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is getting into the act too; check out the Ping belly putter he bought at Augusta National here .



● Speaking of the Masters, world No. 2 Lee Westwood talked Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open about possible changes in his bag for the season’s first major.

“I generally keep the same stuff in, decide last minute whether it's 2-iron or 5 (wood). Augusta is generally 5 because you need to fly the ball in high,” Westwood said. “I've been doing a little bit of work with different bounces on sand irons. It's nice to take a bit of the bounce off the lob wedge at Augusta with the lies you get there and the firmness of the sand in the traps. It's nice to get under the ball a little bit.”



● Tiger Woods went back to his standard Nike VR blades at the Arnold Palmer, taking out the newer-version Nike VR Pro blades he put in the bag at the Chevron World Challenge last year. The VR blades will go to the Masters, too.

As for his continuing putter saga, Woods made an adjustment to the heel-shafted Nike Method that lately has replaced the Scotty Cameron that had been his constant through the years.

“We softened the grooves up to make sure it's not as quick, as I said, and I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” Woods said. “So we softened up the grooves, and it's coming off very similar to my Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”

Something more suited for faster greens … hmm. Sounds like a Masters putter.



● Laird won last week with a TaylorMade white driver, but not the more-ballyhooed R11. He used the Burner SuperFast 2.0 while ranking fifth in distance for the week.

“I put that new driver in at Doral three weeks ago, and I’m not someone that changes equipment much,” Laird

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K.J. Choi's wide putter grip has been a mainstay for years.

said. “I had had my driver before for three years and Taylor Made had been pushing me to try this new one, and I’m glad they did because this thing is unbelievable.”



● K.J. Choi turned heads with the three hybrids he used to finish tied for sixth at Bay Hill (read more here ), but another money club was the Odyssey putter he returned to. Choi’s trademark with putters is the SuperStroke extra-wide grip, said to keep the wrists from breaking down. He used one to win the AT&T National in 2007 and has had it ever since.



● Retief Goosen is going back to the Yes! model putter he used to win two U.S. Opens, our Melanie Hauser writes here .



● PLAYERS champion Tim Clark and others have played with Srixon’s yellow ball, which the company says offers improved visibility , not to mention a distinctive look.

On Twitter, a fan asked Titleist if they would make an orange ProV1 to match Rickie Fowler’s standard Sunday Oklahoma State-inspired outfits. The response: “Highly unlikely!”



● Jack Wulkotte, inducted over the weekend into the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Hall of Fame, owns a pretty significant place in golf history. He was Jack Nicklaus’ personal clubmaker while with MacGregor. That ZT Response putter that Nicklaus won with at the 1986 Masters (and that you’ll hear plenty about over the next week)? Wulkotte put the grip on it. Read his story .

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