Standing on the 18th tee Sunday at the Transitions Championship with a first TOUR win possible if he could make par, Gary Woodland had to find the fairway.
A driver wasn’t the smart play for the big hitter. His caddie talked him out of a 3-wood.
Woodland instead hit the fairway – and eventually won – with a Titleist 503i driving iron.
Some may call it a 2-iron or utility iron or an iron-type hybrid, but the club is essentially a driving iron -- and those two words aren’t heard much anymore in an era of hybrids and higher-lofted fairway woods, for both pros and amateurs.
Titleist no longer makes the 503i (Woodland’s is 18 degrees) and never sold it to the public.
“The trend on TOUR, and certainly in the market, is towards more playable, higher-launching hybrids like the new (Titleist) 910,” said Joe Gomes, director of communications for Acushnet Company. “It is used by only a very small number of players and they are typically either high ball speed (like Woodland) or high spin.”
Only five TOUR pros carry the muscle-back forged 503i – David Duval, Bobby Gates, Michael Sim, Kyle Stanley and Woodland – and you’d be hard-pressed to find too many more driving irons from other manufacturers in TOUR bags.
But for a guy like Woodland who doesn’t lack for driving distance (299.5 yards, eighth on TOUR) and can use some help in accuracy (56.58 percent, 144 th), there’s still room for a driving iron. He doesn’t carry a hybrid or any fairway metal other than a 3-wood.
At Innisbrook last week, he rarely pulled driver.
“Four to five (per round), just depending on the wind,” Woodland said. “The wind switched a little bit (Sunday), so I think I hit maybe five, but it’s mostly about four a day.”
● Justin Rose faded on Sunday at the Transitions after starting the day in the lead, but the twin 65s he shot on Friday and Saturday were the low 36 holes on TOUR this year and a first for the Copperhead course. The TaylorMade staff player gave some credit to a Scotty Cameron putter fished out of the garage.
“I used it at the ’08 Masters, I putted nicely at the time. It’s just a different look,” Rose said Friday after the first 65, where he was T12 in putts. “I think that’s what I needed. I had the (TaylorMade) Ghost, which had a lot of lines on it and I just thought I was getting a little bit too technical.
“I feel like I’m threatening the hole from 20, 25 feet more than I have been all year.”
● According to E. Michael Johnson of Golf World, Sergio Garcia was swinging some serious lumber at Transitions, his first TOUR event of the year. His TaylorMade R11 and Burner SuperFast 2.0 fairway woods had Mitsubishi Diamana shafts weighing 103 grams, the heaviest in the field. That’s twice as heavy as some players’ shafts, and for a guy standing 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds.
● Forget having just one’s initials on the back of clubs, Alex Cejka stamps his yardages (in meters) on the back of his wedges. He explains here. –John Schwarb