ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 23: Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the ninth green during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
By E. Michael Johnson
Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship using a game that was working in every area. Even with a 30-player field, it’s impressive to rank among the top 10 in every strokes gained metric, including being in the top five in strokes gained/off the tee; around the green; putting; tee to green and total.
Such a performance is not only testimony to Woods’ resolve in coming back from career-threatening injuries, but also how Woods re-worked almost his entire bag during the course of 2018, something the normally reticent-to-change Woods fully embraced.
The process got into full gear with a test session last December at Medalist Club in Jupiter, Fla., and Golf Digest was on hand to watch. Woods had signed with TaylorMade nearly a year earlier, but due to injuries this was his first full-blown opportunity to try the company’s gear, including its new M3 driver with Twist Face technology.
The driver testing revealed the best of the old and new Tiger. Finicky as ever about the look and ball flight, but open to trying new things, including working with the adjustable features of the club—something he had been loathe to do throughout his career, using mostly drivers with glued-in shafts. This continued into the season as Woods used the M3, originally putting the two movable weights in the center and back heel position (neutral flight with slide draw bias) before moving them both to the center track with one weight forward and the other somewhat back. The weights forward sacrifice some forgiveness, but add speed and make the club much more workable—a desirable trait for a player who shapes his shots like Woods. He also changed shafts at the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, putting in a Mitsubishi Diamana D + white 70-gram shaft—an updated version of the Mitsubishi shaft he used with much success.
All this trial and tweaking finally paid dividends for Woods late in the season. Coming into the FedEx Cup Playoffs Woods ranked 134th in strokes gained/off the tee. In the three Playoff events leading into the Tour Championship Woods ranked 17th, 38th and 23rd, respectively in the same statistic.
Woods also added new irons to his bag, TaylorMade’s TW Phase 1. The irons are almost an exact replica of the muscleback blade irons Woods has used virtually throughout his career. Woods tried prototypes of the irons at the test session, but felt the ball flight was too high—a non-starter for one of the game’s best iron players. “If I look up and don’t see the ball right there—I mean, right where I expect it to be—then we have a serious, serious problem,” Woods told Golf Digest several years ago about his ball flight with irons. Eventually TaylorMade matched up the center of gravity location to what Woods had been using and also brought in former Nike employee Mike Taylor, who worked on Woods’ irons and wedges when he used equipment with a swoosh, to make sure the irons were just so.
Of course, Woods was also getting used to a new golf ball, Bridgestone’s Tour B XS after years of playing a Nike ball tweaked specifically for him. The Tour B XS is the spinnier version on Bridgestone’s tour ball line, which makes sense for Woods who long has said he’ll take as much spin as he can get in a ball and that it’s his job to take that spin off when necessary.
Woods also swapped out his wedges during the year, changing to TaylorMade’s Milled Grind wedges at the Memorial, leaving his trusty Scotty Cameron by Titleist putter as the lone holdover club. But even the Scotty got the heave-ho for a bit as Woods went way outside his box on putters by trying a true mallet—TaylorMade’s Ardmore 3—in competition for the first time, putting it in play at the Quicken Loans National. Woods then would have a one-event stint with the company’s TP Black Copper Juno at the Dell Technologies Championship before returning to the Cameron he has won 13 majors with.
And now another Tour Championship and a pretty compelling comeback story to go with it.
What Tiger Woods had in the bag at the Tour Championship
Ball: Bridgestone Tour B XS
Driver: TaylorMade M3 460 (Mitsubishi Diamana D + white 70), 9.5 degrees
3-wood: TaylorMade M3, 13 degrees
5-wood: TaylorMade M3, 19 degrees
Irons (3-PW): TaylorMade TW Phase 1
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (56, 60 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron by Titleist Tiger