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Tiger Woods goes back to Nike driver

Tiger Woods changed drivers for the third time this year, returning to a Nike club that will be the largest he has ever used in competition.

``I think I found one I like,'' Woods said Tuesday after a practice round at the American Express Championship.

Woods, who has a five-year contract with Nike worth over $125 million, has struggled with his driver all year and switched to his old Titleist 975D model two months ago in search of more control off the tee.

Woods has been using the Nike Igniter prototype the last few weeks, and said he will use it when the tournament starts Thursday at Capital City Club north of Atlanta.

``I'm excited about putting it into play and very curious to see what happens,'' he said.

The new driver is 335cc, which dwarfs the 265cc head of his old Titleist and even the 300cc head of his previous Nike driver.

Kel Devlin, global sports marketing director for Nike Golf, would not disclose the material used in the new driver, but said its engineers have been working on it for six months.

``We wanted to get it right,'' Devlin said. ``We said to him, 'Don't put it in the bag until you're ready.' The goal was to get it in there by January. We're a little ahead of our internal timeline, but it's very important to get it back in.''

Nike took a hit in late July when Woods, increasingly frustrated with his driving, switched back to his old Titleist driver at the made-for-TV ``Battle at the Bridges,'' and left it in there for his last four tournaments.

Woods has complained all year that some players were using hot drivers that exceeded the limits for springlike effect.

He said the Nike Igniter allows him to shape the ball.

``It feels stable, that's the biggest thing,'' Woods said. ``When you hit it, it doesn't feel like it's moving all over the place. A lot of times, you'll find with the hotter drivers that it becomes harder to work it.''

A year ago at the American Express Championship in Ireland, Woods switched from Titleist to the Nike irons and went on to a wire-to-wire victory at Mount Juliet.

He changed to the Nike Golf ball in 2000, then went on to win the next four majors.

The driver has come along far more slowly.

Woods first made the switch to the swoosh at the 2002 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and he used it to overpower Augusta National and Bethpage Black to become the first player in 30 years to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.

But his driving accuracy slipped this year. He was 128th when he switched back to his old Titleist, and has since fallen to 148th at 62.5 percent.

Woods is ranked 12th in driving distance at 299.3 yards, his lowest ever on Tour.

``There's more balance,'' he said of his new driver. ``That's the great thing.''

He also gave Nike one other surprise -- swapping out a 56-degree sand wedge with a Nike model. Woods also experimented with a Nike lob wedge Tuesday, but likely will keep playing his Titleist model.

The changes mean Woods has only three Titleist clubs still in his bag -- the 3-wood, lob wedge and his Scotty Cameron putter.

``We're getting there,'' Devlin said.

If this year is any indication, the key for Nike is getting Woods to stay there.

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