NEWS FROM THE TOUR VANS
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Tiger Woods defied logic this week at Riviera – so much so, it may have prompted a surprising mid-tournament equipment change from playing competitor Rory McIlroy.
We had all assumed that Woods would progressively lose power off the tee given his age and intense injury history. Between his last two full seasons on the PGA Tour, the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, Woods lost about 3 mph of ball speed and 7 yards of distance.
That was four years and one catastrophic leg injury ago. It would be only reasonable to guess that Woods would lean more into a conservative tactician’s mindset as his clubhead speed diminished.
Well, maybe we were all wrong. Woods routinely touched 175-180 mph of ball speed during the Genesis Invitational and averaged 306.2 yards per drive, ranking 24th among the field. During the second round, he even cranked one 364 yards on the par-4 third, the 10th-longest drive of the week for any player on any hole.
Throughout the week, Woods spoke extensively about his use of a powerful low, running cut he had been working on during his recent recovery.
“Before, I would use the ground and push off and could be explosive,” Woods explained after Friday’s round. “I don't have that ability anymore, so a lot of it's just purely core strength but also being very careful because my back is fused.
“This is what I've been doing at home; this is the speed I've been hitting it. I don't have the high one like some of these guys do, like the two guys in my group,” he said, referring to McIlroy and Justin Thomas. “They can hit that ball and send it. I don't have that because of the limitations in my back and my leg.”
There are a couple of equipment off-shoots to this fact that we found fascinating.
The first is, Woods said he plans on regularly changing golf balls depending on what course he is playing. When he played the PNC Championship in December, Woods experimented with a Bridgestone Tour B X ball, which he claims added ball speed and distance.
The tradeoff is the ball does not spin as much coming into the greens. Woods is known for playing an incredibly “spinny” golf ball, but he found his current state of play often demands a ball that doesn’t spin so he can keep up with distance off the tee.
Woods has another ball, the Bridgestone XS, that allows for more workability and control into greens. In tournaments where approach control is a bigger priority than distance, Woods could opt for the XS.
“I traditionally always wanted a high-spin ball, and I would dial it back as needed,” Woods told Golf Digest. “What I have found over this past year is, as situations change, my ball and performance preferences do also. … It really comes down to getting the best mix of spin versus distance based on the situation and setup that week.”
During round one Thursday in Pacific Palisades, California, Woods drove it past McIlroy and Thomas on multiple occasions and generally kept up with the two bombers.
McIlroy joked after the first round that he might need to make some driver tweaks.
“I put my driver up a click in loft at the start of the week,” McIlroy said, indicating that he altered the loft sleeve to sacrifice some distance in the name of accuracy. “I might have to turn it back down again. I don't like (Tiger) hitting it by me.”
McIlroy did more than that. By Friday morning, he came to the tee with a TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus rather than his first-generation Stealth Plus. McIlroy had been using the Stealth Plus since the start of the 2022 season, so it was interesting to see him switch drivers entirely.
It worked, at least for a day. McIlroy had ranked No. 39 in strokes gained off-the-tee in round one and went all the way up to No. 3 during round two.
Moments after Woods launched his 364-yard drive, McIlroy sent him a friendly reminder that this isn’t 2001 anymore, hitting it 24 yards past his idol for a mammoth tee ball measuring 388 yards.