Perfecting the Knockdown Three-Wood
Tiger's Money Shot
Every player needs a safety shot, one that puts the ball in play
off the tee on tight holes, in high winds or when his confidence
or coordination is running low. Most of all, he needs a shot
that will hold up under pressure. Jack Nicklaus employs what he
calls a "heel cut," a shot hit toward the neck of the club that
starts left, flies lower and shorter than usual and has a dying
curve to the right. It's ugly, yet under certain conditions it
produces beautiful results.
Tiger Woods now has a reliable safety shot: the punch
three-wood. He hit it extensively in winning the Mercedes
Championship at blustery Kapalua, and he used it again last week
at Pebble Beach. Woods tees the ball low--or uses no tee--plays
it back in his stance, grips down slightly on the club, takes a
shorter than normal backswing, hits down on the ball to the
point of taking a divot and makes an abrupt, abbreviated
follow-through in which the club stops about shoulder high. The
result is a shot that flies low and straight, hits the ground
running and stops about 250 yards away.
Butch Harmon, Woods's coach, began teaching him the shot last
year. "The principle is the same as when the average golfer
punches a nine-iron--delofting the clubhead and keeping the face
square through the ball," says Harmon. "If that player tried it
with a longer club, especially a three-wood, he wouldn't have
enough clubhead speed to keep the ball airborne. But clubhead
speed is not Tiger's problem."
In fact, Woods has so much clubhead speed that the shot has been
difficult for him to master. "The secret of the shot is to bow
the left wrist down at impact and hold off the hit with the arms
and hands," explains Harmon. Strengthening his arms to "hold off
the hit," or release the clubhead, has been one of the prime
motivators in Woods's dedication to weight training. But even
after he had built up his forearms last year, Woods still didn't
feel he had honed the three-wood punch well enough to put it in
play in a major.
Harmon wanted him to use it off the tee at windy and narrow
Carnoustie. Woods chose instead to punch with a two-iron, a shot
he hits 25 yards shorter than the three-wood, leaving himself
longer approaches into the greens. As a result, he made only six
birdies in the entire championship on his way to a tie for
The three-wood shot was instrumental in Woods's victory at the
American Express Championship in Spain in November. On the final
day, tight and tricky Valderrama was buffeted by swirling winds,
and Woods tested his three-wood several times in one of the
finest tee-to-green rounds of his life.
Woods isn't the first to use the shot. Harmon learned it from
his father, Claude Sr., a shotmaking genius who won the 1948
Masters. Ben Hogan also favored the shot but mostly from the
fairway. "Hogan just brushed the turf with irons, but he took a
divot with his woods," says Harmon.
What's the worst thing that can go wrong with the shot?
"Sometimes I hit it too high, but even then it normally goes
straight," says Woods. In short, it's a shot made for majors.
The notion that 11 straight victories by Woods in official Tour
events would somehow not measure up to Byron Nelson's streak is
laughable. The truth is obvious: 11 in a row on Tour today would
dwarf what Nelson did, and no one knows that better than Lord
Byron. That's why he hasn't bought into this latest example of
What do these players have in common?
They're the only players to win both the professional and the
pro-am divisions at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in the
same year. Wall won in 1959, Pott in '68, Miller in '74 and
Zoeller in '86.
If you could play one last round, on which course would you play?
Pebble Beach 22%
St. Andrews 12%
Home course 3%
--Based on 2,684 responses to our informal survey
Next question: If you could play 18 holes with one of the
following golfers when he was 24 years old, which would it be?
Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods? Vote
SYNONYMS for a TOUR TERM
Collapsed because of pressure: blew a gasket, clubs got heavy,
dogged it, gagged, gasped for air, went down in flames, went in
the tank, got a flat tire, got a hole in the parachute, knitted
a sweater, leaked oil, lost it, puckered up, rubber arms, Scott
Hoched, spit the bit, sucked wind, swallowed the olive, took
gas, took the pipe, threw a rod, threw up on himself, threw up
on his shoes, wheels came off, white knuckles.
B/W PHOTO: CORBIS/BETTMANN Woods isn't the first to use the shot. Hogan (above) also favored it, but he hit it mostly from the fairway.