Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas among pros testing driving irons at The Open
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Written by GolfWRX @GolfWRX
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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- An Open Championship at St. Andrews is always special because of the historic setting, but this year’s edition has an added level of intrigue because of the firm and fast conditions that will offer a true links test for the 156 competitors. Players will need to control their trajectory and shot shape because the ball rolls so far after landing
Rory McIlroy described this week as a “chess game” as players plot their way around this ancient property to avoid the 112 bunkers. With firm, rolling fairways and an exposed seaside landscape, St. Andrews presents players with a unique challenge.
This week’s conditions have led players to reverse a growing trend on TOUR. More and more players have been opting for higher-lofted fairway woods in recent years. Long irons are back in style at St. Andrews because they allow players to play the ground game and keep the ball out of the heavy, seaside wind.
“I'm just trying to get used to the speed of the fairways and getting used to hitting the ball down and also giving more wide berth on shots, allowing for more drift on the wind,” said Tiger Woods in his pre-tournament press conference. “The ball just gets eaten up here when you play on links courses and seaside courses. The air is heavier, and you've just got to give it more room. And sometimes it's just hard to see that and hard to understand. You've got to give it a little more 30 yards because obviously it's going to bounce, it's going to roll and then it's going to roll out another 40 yards once it lands. And that's just with a 7-iron in your hand.”
Players have been testing driving irons in droves at The Open. Modern driving irons, with hollow bodies and variable face thickness, can produce faster ball speeds and more forgiveness than standard one-piece irons, while also providing lower, more penetrating ball flights than fairway woods or hybrids.
The driving iron philosophy, especially in links-style conditions, is to hit the ball so it comes out low and running, a la Woods’ “stinger” tee shots. In some cases, driving irons can actually go farther than 3-woods or 5-woods due to the amount of roll they produce in firm conditions.
Knowing this, a number of golfers have been testing out driving irons at St. Andrews.
Rory McIlroy, who normally plays with a 5-wood and a 3-iron, is testing TaylorMade’s new Stealth UDI 2-iron this week. As a high-ball hitter, the UDI likely offers McIlroy a bit more trajectory control than his 5-wood, but it remains to be seen whether McIlroy switches into the new design just yet.
Justin Thomas, another player who typically opts for a 5-wood, was also spotted by GolfWRX testing out a Titleist T200 2-iron ahead of The Open. The T200 isn’t necessarily billed as a “driving iron,” but with its hollow bodied design, it offers more speed off the face than a normal single-piece iron that Thomas uses.
Marc Leishman has an 18-degree Callaway Apex UT in the bag in Scotland, whereas he normally plays with a 5-wood, 7-wood, or a strong lofted standard long iron. The Apex UT, which he shortened by an inch, helps Leishman find greater control. He put the club in his bag at last week’s Genesis Scottish Open.
“I haven’t had a 2-iron in the bag for a while,” he said.
Also of note, Mito Pereira, who finished T3 at the PGA Championship, is testing out a Ping i525 driving iron to replace the 7-wood he had in his bag when he nearly won his first major. Additionally, defending champion Collin Morikawa is reportedly considering swapping his 5-wood out for a TaylorMade P770 2-iron.
Of course, conditions can change drastically and unexpectedly when playing Scottish golf, so players will need to be ready to audible on their gear choices throughout the week. Should it stay firm and windy at St. Andrews throughout the week, though, expect to see a number of players look to rely on driving irons off the tee.