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Tiger goes back to old Titleist driver

His old Titleist driver in hand, Tiger Woods was picking out targets he had to squint to see at the end of the driving range.

"Corner of that dirt road -- those two small boxes," Woods told caddie Steve Williams, pointing to a pair of green, waist-high electrical units some 300 yards away.

The first shot was just left of the target. The second was perfect.

Woods, who has struggled with his Nike driver throughout the year, planned to return to his old driver -- and old technology -- at the "Battle of the Bridges" on Monday night and perhaps for the rest of the year.

"You know why I can hit that shot?" he said. "It stays on the (club) face a fraction longer and enables you to shape it. Just like the old persimmons drivers that guys could move. The new drivers are too hot."

Woods used his old driver -- a Titleist 975D -- almost exclusively during his practice round Sunday on the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe and said he might use it during the prime-time exhibition with Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson.

Hours before the match, Nike Golf said a switch away from the swoosh was inevitable.

"He wants to make a switch," said Mike Kelly, Nike's business director of golf clubs. "We think it's a natural phenomenon for most golfers. Whether you're the best in the world or an average golfer, you go back in the garage and find something you were successful with."

In an era of bigger clubs with thinner faces, Woods is going back in time.

The 975D is not even on the market except in resale bins. Titleist upgraded that version with the 975J in 2001, and the 975K and 975E this year.

For Woods, it's more about control than distance.

He is 128th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour this year, hitting the fairway 64.5 percent of the time.

While the change might be only temporary, it marks the first time he has gone back to old clubs after switching to Nike. He started playing the Nike Golf ball in May 2000, and switched to the Nike irons last September.

Woods continues to use his 3-wood, wedges and putter -- all Titleist products.

Kelly said most of its customers -- professionals and recreational players alike -- prefer larger heads that push the limit of trampoline effect.

Michael Campbell won the Irish Open on Sunday using a Nike driver with a 400cc head.

Woods' Nike driver had a 300cc head, while the Titleist 975D is 260cc.

"He's our No. 1 athlete and our toughest customer," Kelly said. "We don't have what he wants now, which is smaller and slower."

Woods first used the Nike driver at the 2002 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and he won nine times with it -- including the Masters and U.S. Open last year, two courses where driving was critical.

In recent months, Woods has raised suspicions that some players were using drivers that were over the limit and urged the PGA Tour to test the trampoline effect. A random test is planned starting next year.

Woods might stick with his old Titleist through a big stretch of golf next month, including the PGA Championship, his last chance to win a major this year.

The impact his switch has on Nike Golf remains to be seen.

"From a brand standpoint, that's where we need to circle the wagons and get a new driver in his hands," Kelly said. "Hopefully, this fall and next spring we'll give another opportunity to drive the ball the way he wants to."

Woods brings extraordinary attention to Nike, a relative newcomer to the equipment industry. David Duval became the first player to win with Nike clubs at the British Open two years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, although he began using new drivers in the spring.

Still, no one is more high-profile than Woods.

"If he wins a tournament, people say he could play with anything," Kelly said. "If he loses, they say he's not driving the ball, and obviously it's the equipment. That's a no-win situation for us."

Softening the blow for Nike is that Woods did not switch to a current model on the market, instead relying on a driver that made its debut six years ago.

Still, Kelly said it was imperative to get the swoosh back under the Tiger head cover. Woods signed a five-year extension with Nike in 2000 that is worth more than $100 million.

"The relationship is not strained one bit," Kelly said. "It's enhanced, because this shows he can play with anything. We'll do everything we can for him to go with Nike."


 

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