Masters Favorites

Next week for many is the opening of the golf season, the Masters. An arm chair pastime has always been evaluating the field and picking possible winners and why they are the short list to wear the green jacket come Sunday.

The King, Arnold Palmer, will be missed but the memory of his four wins and exciting play will never be lost. Every year since 1954 he has been there and though he hasn’t played in recent years he took the job of honorary starter seriously with his customary humor and good grace.

One question on everyone’s mind is will he or won’t he, i.e., will the aging athlete with a bad back Tiger Woods be able to tee it up. He has said repeatedly he wants to and wants to continue his run at passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. This Masters would be a wonderful place for him to start.

Many of the top Tour players are under 30…some way under. This brings added interest from younger fans and the Masters is another chance to see who has what it takes. To win the Masters requires the maturity to handle the situation and of course putting well on the contoured, sloping and ridiculously fast greens. But paraphrasing Bobby Jones, founder of Augusta National and the Masters, “There’s golf and then there’s major championship golf.”

Defending champion Danny Willet has, even at his best in the past year, exhibited lackluster ball striking and putting. No wins since last April and typically finishing—if he made the cut—well down the leaderboard.

Concerns about his mother’s health have put former world number one Jason Day into the situation where he may not play and it’s unlikely even if he does he will be able to set it all aside and play up to the level necessary to win.

Taking a look at the rest of the field’s chances to win the 81st playing of what many say is their most memorable major championship one has to consider Hideki Matsuyama as a possibility. Plus a slimmer Bubba Watson trying for his third win at Augusta is an excellent pick and we shouldn’t overlook the long-hitting youngster Justin Thomas.

Henrik Stenson, winner over Phil Mickelson in the British Open, and his fairway-hitting Callaway 3-wood is a maybe. His season hasn’t been up to what we have come to expect and he doesn’t do particularly well at Augusta with his best finish being 14th three years ago.

So, with all that in mind, here are our picks to win the green jacket:

Dustin Johnson – what can you say about a player who hits it as long as DJ, often in the fairway, has his wedges dialed in and, for the trifecta, is in the top 30 for putting. The flat stick has always been a key at Augusta National and if the man from South Carolina has a good putting week he will be hard to beat. The WGC Match Play Three win was his third in as many starts and places him at the top of the list.

Jordan Spieth – The demons from his infamous finish last year will be exorcised. Spieth is not super long but long enough as he has proven with his 2015 Masters win. The 23-year old Texan’s strongest attributes are his ability to manage his round and his putting from outside 10 feet. Admittedly he hasn’t been able to separate himself from the rest of the Tour this year as he did in the past but his Pebble Beach win was impressive though his performance at the WGC Match Play was not. 

Rory McIlroy – it’s tough to bet against the star from Northern Ireland who at times has it all. One fan labelled him “All-World,” and that’s not much of an exaggeration. A suspect putter could be the reason he isn’t adding a Masters trophy on his mantelpiece to go with his Open, U.S. Open and two PGA Championships hardware.

Rickie Fowler – now is the time for Fowler to prove he is in the elite bracket of players who not only can win any given week but can take charge in a major championship. He won at the Honda and skipped the WGC Match Play and at 28-years old he must step up to avoid being in the Sergio Garcia category—close, but never a major winner. Remember in 2015 Fowler quieted those who said he was the Tour’s most overrated player with his stellar Players Championship victory.

Dark Horse: Jon Rahm – The young man from Spain seems to play well every time he tees it up and though a rookie has a win at Torrey Pines. His put on a very impressive display of hardnosed golf to almost take Johnson in the final at the WGC Match Play. Quick to smile and though he sometimes gets hot under the collar if he smiles his way around Augusta the first two rounds the weekend could be very interesting.

Sentimental favorite: Phil Mickelson – the best 46-year old golfer in the world. He still hits it long and when he is on, his controlled iron shots make any course look easy. As a bonus, Lefty’s putting stroke has never looked better. With no rough at Augusta and if his sometimes wild driving can at least keep his tee shots out of the loblolly pines this could be a great chance for his sixth major.

Ten Rounds with the Ping i200 Irons

By ED TRAVIS

Right out of the box the new Ping i200 irons make a positive impression. They look great, like an iron should look, with almost classic lines and this makes sense since Ping intends them to be “shot-makers” irons. They are targeted for use by recreational players wanting a cleaner look with less offset than a game-improvement iron such as the Ping G.

Before getting in to the technical side of the i200s a big part of the first impression they make is their finish…a soft chrome look called “hydropearl.” Eye pleasing to say the least and functional too, which we will cover in a minute.

The i200 story revolves around three features. In the back of the head is a muscle-stabilizing bar to aid shot control and produce the nice smooth contact inherent in the irons. Second is an elastomer insert in the cavity behind the face that helps the face flex and dampen impact vibration. The insert is almost double in volume from previous models which means it is in contact with three times the area of the face.

Finally, the clubface is thinner so it is more reactive but equally important the saved weight from the face Ping was able to move towards the toe and into the hosel so it contributes to more forgiveness. There are some nice smaller features as well, such as the look of minimal offset at address which some, myself included, find is confidence inspiring. This of course won’t fix any swing faults but for me, if an iron sets up well that’s a positive factor in making the ball go where it should.

The blades leading edge has been given slightly more contour and a little more bounce was added so turf interaction improved meaning shallower divots and better ball contact. Finally, even the hydropearl chrome finish has a second purpose beyond making the i200s look good, it actually repels moisture which helps to minimize flyers from wet grass and rough.

On the course, few irons we have tested felt any better right from the first swing. Short irons were extremely solid and trajectory control was easy especially when trying to knock it really close from inside 150 yards.

Distance was no problem though the short irons were 2-3 yards longer compared to my previous set relative to the distance comparison of the longer clubs. Or put another way a Ping i200 9-iron generally went farther than the 9-iron I had been using but the Ping i200 5-iron was the same carry distance.

Street price is $125 per iron with steel shafts so a set of 5-iron through pitching wedge is $750.

Negatives: Surprisingly and considering the soft feel of most shots, some strikes felt very hard on the face. Granted it was always when the swing was poor and contact poor, usually towards the heel. It didn’t happen with every bad swing, but when it did it was almost startling given the usual smooth contact. Longer irons tended hit the ball somewhat higher and living in Florida where the wind often blows, a lower penetrating flight is useful. This was not a major problem but definitely one to be aware of for shots into the wind.

Recommendation: Anyone wanting for irons with the look and performance of player’s iron but the playability of a game-improvement club should jump on the Ping i200s. They answer both requirements admirably.

Bermuda Sands for This Spring

For years when visiting a new course I purchased a logoed shirt both as a memento of the round and because like all frequent players, I go through golf shirts at a pretty steady clip. At one course there was a nice looking shirt in kind of a peach color and I bought it. (I know—real men don’t wear peach but you had to see the shirt to appreciate it. It was a masculine peach shade.)

This was my first exposure to the Bermuda Sands brand and while I don’t remember the course and the shirt is long gone into the rag bag the Bermuda Sands apparel line has become one of my favorites.

They have a wide variety of men’s short and long sleeve shirts plus outerwear and for ladies there are tops, skorts and outerwear.

This spring they’ve done it again with several items for men that are standouts and with pricing that’s friendly to any wallet.

Action Polo

The Men’s Action shirt is an authentic plaid print with both a pop of color and a measure of style that goes with any wardrobe. It’s made of the G2 Tech polyester/spandex performance fabric, a fine gauge jersey, with a UV Protection of 25+…comfort and sun protection wherever you wear it. It has a three button placket and available in Peri Blue or Amethyst for $77.

Griffin Shirt

The Griffin shirt is made of the same G2 Tech performance fabric with a twist on the tried and true striped design, featuring wider and alternating color stripes, along with an accent striped collar to keep the look fresh all season long. Also with a three button placket there are six color options each priced at $72.

Steam Polo

The Steam Polo is one of my favorites offering a choice of five colors all with a striated look. Bermuda Sands says, and I agree, “This shirt feels like wearing a cloud.” Both lightweight and soft it retails for $60.

Strata Shirt

The Strata is a perfect layering piece when spring is less spring maybe a little winter. Lightweight, long sleeve and quarter zip it’s made from polyester jersey and built for active wear with a relaxed drop shoulder. Priced at $65 there are four color options from which to choose.

All these and the entire Bermuda Sands apparel line may be seen at bermudasandsapparel.com.

Ten Rounds with EX10 Fairway Woods & Hybrids

Tour Edge Golf doesn’t spend millions on television advertising campaigns nor do they dole out money for toursters to play their clubs.

They aren’t a huge equipment company but they are though an OEM who has successfully created a reputation for high quality clubs using the latest manufacturing techniques, design and materials. Their clubs give golfers top notch performance day in and day out, often at what could be called, “very competitive prices.”

This season’s Exotics EX10 Fairway Woods ($250) and Hybrids ($180) are perfect examples.

The fairway woods use high density steel for the cup face which is combo-brazed (rather than welded) to the steel clubhead body producing a face that is both responsive and strong. Due to its strength the face can be thinner so more of the impact energy is transferred to the ball. Plus since the face is a variable thickness design hits not quite on the center, say towards the heel or toe, can still result in a “good” shot.

It’s obvious during testing, from the nice high ball launch, the work Tour Edge did to push the center of gravity lower and deeper in the head (including the use of a 9-gram sole weight), was a success. And there’s an added benefit with this weighting, it gave the EX10 fairway wood lots of forgiveness. The slim-looking aerodynamic shape is easy to like and the updated wave pattern on the sole (longer rails and deeper channels in between) helps the club pass smoothly through even fairly heavy grass.

EX10 Fairway Woods have a choice of lofts with heads becoming progressively smaller as the loft increases: 13-degree (173 cc), 15-degree (165 cc), 16.5-degree (165 cc), 18-degree (158 cc) and 21-degree (150 cc).

EX10 Hybrids are a similar construction to the fairway woods with the same high density, steel cup face–HT 980 high-tensile strength steel—and again, since it can be made very thin, it produces the trampoline effect, the key to added distance. The face and body are also combo-brazed and the wave pattern on the sole is improved.

In the hybrids a 2-hybrid (17 degrees), 3-hybrid (19 degrees), 4-hybrid (22 degrees), 5-hybrid (25 degrees) and 6-hybrid (28 degrees) are available.

On the course testing was done for ten rounds with a 13-degree 3-wood and two hybrids, a 3-hybrid and 4-hybrid. It should pointed out after a couple of rounds it was plain these newbies weren’t just squatters in the bag slots. They quickly earned permanent occupancy.

The course I often play, depending on the wind, requires a 3-wood from the tee on three or sometimes four holes and the performance of the EX10 can best be described as a “mini-driver.” On more than one occasion the ball actually went too far and since its Florida that usually means one of two things. Either the ball is in the water or blocked out by palms or oaks. Heck of a problem to have.

From tight Bermuda grass fairway lies the EX10 gets the ball in the air every time, the first 3-wood from any manufacturer I can say that about. Granted not every strike is dead solid perfect, my swing sometimes seems to go on hiatus, but my poor contacts are usually towards the toe and the EX10 still gets the ball in the air with credible distance.

The EX10 hybrids are a little longer from the tee than the previous model EX9s which were tested last year and more readily work the ball to tucked pins. Realizing anecdotal evidence for what it is, the second round with them from a par-5 fairway bunker, the 4-hybrid not only got the ball out but laser measurement of the carry and rollout was 186 yards. At my skill level I can’t ask for more than that.

However, where the hybrids really come into their own is from the rough. They get the ball up and out. Period. They feel solid everytime and the shot is almost always online. Long par-3s are even fun since with just a driving range swing, not trying to do anything special, both the 3- and 4- hit the ball high and it lands softly…sometimes even near the pin.

Negatives: Did not spend a lot of time hitting the EX10 3-wood from the rough since Florida rough is Bermuda and even in the winter time a hybrid is a better choice. If you are someone who takes a little divot with a fairway wood—à la Tom Watson—the “Slipstream Sole” of both the wood and hybrids may take some getting used to. Plus, and I know this sounds picky, the head covers on the hybrids are a pain to put back on.

Recommendation: These are in my bag to stay. The best recommendation I can give them.

Proper Threads–Devereux

My first impression three years ago meeting the Devereux brothers, Will (left) and Robert (right), was here were two guys who were passionate about life and golf. And they were frank about their goal of translating that passion into being leaders in golf-lifestyle apparel. Since then they have created the Devereux brand and each piece uses high quality fabrics constructed with the distinctive looks a sophisticated well-dressed man wants to wear on and off the course.

In other words, they created Proper Threads.

As the Devereux brother’s point out this is more than a tagline. It reflects their approach to dressing well without the commonness of other lines in color and cut.

The Devereux collection has shirts, shorts, slacks and sweaters in distinctive colors with lots of style and modern cut. All are made with attention to detail plus there’s a hat line in the modern flat bill design with some that have the more traditional look of “Dad hats.”

For spring we were attracted to one of their lightweight sweaters, the Naples Crewneck made from long staple Pima cotton in a camo knit pattern. Seams have a raw finish and the side vents are ribbed for better stretch. Priced at $145 it comes in two good-looking shades of blue.

The Cruiser Hybrid Shorts ($85) are made with Stretch Hybrid Woven fabric (71% Polyester/25%Cotton/4% Spandex) that is quick drying and the mesh pocketing means they are at home on land or on the water.

Also take a look at the Cameron Polo (also $85) made from breathable and moisture wicking fabric called Airflow Knit that’s 96% Polyester/4%Spandex. It helps to regulate body temperature for warm day activities such as golf.

You can see their entire line for spring at Devereux – Proper Threads.

Ten Rounds with the Cobra King F7+ Driver

In 2013 Tom Olsavsky joined Cobra Puma Golf as Vice President of Research and Development after a long stint with TaylorMade Golf as Senior Director of Product Creation. Industry observers expected this well respected designer would make his mark on the entire Cobra product line and he has.

Last year we told you we liked the KING F6 Baffler with the iconic rails on the sole and the KING LTD driver with the center of gravity on the neutral axis of the clubhead plus a “Spaceport” in the sole to help create lots of forgiveness. In fact, Olsavskly’s team did such a good job, the KING LTD quickly took the number one slot in my bag.

We also commented on the KING F6 driver which had a font-to-back weighting system and in revamping the F6 for this season the result is the KING F7 (460cc $350) and the slightly smaller profile KING F7+ (452cc $400). Both have three weights (1-12 gram and 2-2 gram) in the sole. One is positioned in the front just behind the face, the second towards the heel and the last in the very rear of the head. By switching the weights around gives in essence three much different drivers.

Trying out the various weight positons in the KING F7+ did produce noticeable changes in trajectory and curvature bias. Our 10 rounds of testing included one with the 12-gram weight in the heel and two with it in the rear position. Since my tendency is a hook (truth be told it deteriorates often to a pull hook) having the heavier weight in the heel didn’t produce a lot of fairways and with it in the rear position trajectory was too high.

Settling on the heavier weight in the front position, which obviously was correct for my swing, produced and mid-trajectory basically straight shot and allowed for a fade for those holes requiring a dogleg tee shot.

The stock Fujikura PRO XLR8 shaft is slightly stiffer in the tip and butt and gives lots of mid-point kick for mid-launch complimenting the 12-gram weight being in the front position.

The crown is carbon fiber which, being 20% lighter than titanium, weight could be shifted lower and deeper in the head making the KING F7+ above average in forgiveness.

Then there’s what they are calling COBRA CONNECT, a partnership with Arccos to track every drive. The Arccos sensor is preinstalled in the butt end of the grip so once it’s paired with the free smartphone app not only drive data is recorded but there’s a GPS rangefinder. It works, is automatic to use and the data may be reviewed after the round including distance and the number of fairways hit. They tell me the sensor battery is good for at least two years.

Distance however, is the thing everyone wants to know about and the KING F7+ is as long as the KING LTD I was carrying and with the same dead-solid sound. The trajectory (with the 12-gram weight in the front positon) is mid-launch and the lack of ballooning in the wind indicates low ball spin even on slight mishits.

Finally, the blue KING F7+ has a really great look at address. The shape is pleasing and the blue—with red and white accents on the sole–stands out in a world of mostly black clubheads.

The Cobra KING F7+ also has what is sometimes called Tour validation. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler won the Honda Classic with the F7+ and it’s played by Lexi Thompson, Jonas Blixt, Jesper Parnevik and World Golf Hall of Fame member Greg Norman. While it’s tough to make a comparison between their swings and that of the average golfer plus of course they are paid by Cobra, it is a vote of confidence since they could be using any of the other Cobra models.

Negatives: the F7+ is billed as being for better players and comes with an adjustable hosel from 8 to 11 degrees so if you need help with trajectory the F7, which adjusts from 9 to 12 degrees (and with the 12-gram weight in the rear), would be a better choice.

Recommendation: Get on a launch monitor and test (with the help of a PGA Professional) the KING F7+ against any of the other new drivers and I think you will find it will hold its own in terms of feel, accuracy, forgiveness and distance. The $400 price is at the low end of the range for Tour level drivers and with comparable features making it attractive for a lot of budgets.

Come Back Tiger


For a lot of reasons besides the thrill of watching him play this madding game we need a healthy Tiger Woods back on Tour.

He draws attention regardless of his score. TV ratings take a big bump whenever he tees it up not to mention how much they increase when he is in contention. Companies get more “eyeballs” on their advertisements resulting in more sales and more return on their investment. In the case of the golf equipment OEMs such as TaylorMade Golf and Bridgestone Golf who pay Woods to endorse their products that can be significant.

Then, let’s not forget tournament ticket sales, merchandise sales, refreshments and pro-am fees. The more money raised the more can go to charity. Plus, though his turning professional in 1996 may not have resulted in a permanent increase in the number of golfers, there’s no denying a healthy Tiger attracts attention and bolsters the sport’s image which doesn’t hurt participation.

Whether Woods is the greatest player of all time or not, the truth is he still brings an interest and excitement to any event he enters. Insiders would say, “He moves the needle.” Is his career over? Who knows and it seems that even he doesn’t know.

Maligned, sometimes unfairly, and praised, sometimes undeservedly, but whatever the circumstances he has been the face of professional golf and for the past two decades has been the most talked about and written about golfer on Tour.

Dealing with just the facts, rather than what sometimes passes for news and is actually opinion, Woods is a forty-something athlete who has a bad back and there’s always a big question mark with that type of injury. Three surgeries put him on the sidelines beginning in August 2015. The layoff ended with his ballyhooed return in early December 2016 at a 17-player charity exhibition and no cut. He finished 15th.

Next in late January this year he teed it up at Torrey Pines Golf Club less than an hour from where he grew up. His rounds of 76 and 72 missed the cut by four strokes. Then he flew commercially to Dubai (Really? It’s hard to believe he would go commercial) where, after smoothing it around for a 77, Woods was hit by back spasms forcing his withdrawal.

Though had planned to, he did not play at Riviera (his charity is a primary beneficiary) nor the Honda near his home in South Florida revealing on TigerWoods.com his doctors had ordered no activity to let his “back calm down.”

And those are the facts. With the Masters five weeks away and his often voiced determination to win more major championships it will be interesting to see if he is able to play. Or even if his back is OK Woods may feel his game isn’t ready for prime time, that he can’t be competitive and decide against going to Augusta.

It’s important to not get carried away with speculation, guessing and wishful thinking. Woods doesn’t need the money but does, from all reports, still want to win more majors, i.e., continue chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record.

Besides, there’s one other salient fact about the former world number one who held that spot for a total of over 13 years. In less than nine years Woods will be eligible for the Champions Tour.