Hank On Tiger And Others: "A lot of them are benefiting from not having to hit many drivers"

Last year I wrote in Golf World (not posted) about the death of the driver caused in part by course setups and shorter major venues at Olympic, Lytham and Merion rendering the big stick useless, but one element of the equation that I heard all about this year in talking to Champions Tour players this week was the 3-wood and the amazing strides made of late by manufacturers.

Then I see in John Huggan's column this week on Tiger that Hank Haney has plenty of nice things to say about Tiger's game, except his driving. But as Haney points out, that may be an overrated element of the game.

“Because of the distance so many of the professionals now hit the ball, a lot of them are benefiting from not having to hit many drivers,” continues the Dallas-based coach.

Tigerphiles will want to read the rest of what Hank has to say.

But I don't want to leave this topic as I think it's a fascinating thing to keep in mind with the majors right around the corner.

None of the venues this year will play unbearably long unless it rains a lot at Augusta, meaning there should be an edge to those who happily carry it 300 yards with a 3 wood (you know, from all that kale they've been eating...).

Interestingly, a few of the Champions Tour guys I talked to this week cited 3-wood driving distances as another reason to address distance increases that the governing bodies insist have flatlined. A couple even said they suspect the COR limits are being pushed by 3 woods because the players thought those were tested for spring-like-effect. But after a quick search, Jim Achenbach clarified this was not the case back in 2010 as some of the recent improvements were starting to be seen in fairway woods.

And the greatest strides recently made by manufacturers trying to reach that limit may be in fairway woods, especially 3-woods. When COR testing was introduced in 1998, 3-woods were nowhere near the limit. “Recently, we’ve had some 3-woods exceed the limit,” Rugge said. Those prototypes must be altered and resubmitted within the .830 COR limit.

Personally, I kind of enjoy the irony of the distance pursuit undermining the role of the driver, but as someone who would like to see today's Watson's and Miller's face some of the same risk-reward questions as their predecessors, we're losing something if the driver is not called on at key times to separate the great from the merely very good.

But if you're a better man or woman--and here are your latest Masters odds following Tampa Bay--this is shaping up as a year to wager on the player who doesn't need to hit too many drivers to win a major. Maybe even someone who has a "stinger" in the bag.