Tiger Woods hit his driver only twice Thursday in the first round of the Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club, a par-71 course that measures 7,319 yards from the tips. Woods used his driver to reach the 291-yard par-4 fifth hole and for what he called his best shot of the day, a low fade, on the 470-yard par-4 18th.
The 475-yard 12th hole? Woods hit 3-wood. The 626-yard 13th hole? 3-wood. The 594-yard 17th? 3-wood.
When I asked him about hitting 3-wood so often off the tee, Tiger told me that the club put him right on the corner of many of the holes. Hitting a driver would either have sent the ball through the fairway or forced him to play around or over the trees that guard the doglegs at Ridgewood. It proved to be a smart move, and it was the key to a 65 and his best round of the season.
Here's the thing, though: You and I would never do it.
Fairway woods are the forgotten soldiers in an amateur's bag. We all dream about new drivers made from exotic materials with massive heads crammed with the latest bells and whistles, but the added loft of fairway woods helps the average player hit straighter shots. More loft creates more backspin, and that means less slice-creating sidespin. Plus, today's fairway woods are nearly as powerful as your driver.
In order to implement the strategy Tiger used at Ridgewood and the one he used to win the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool you need to find a fairway wood that really matches your swing. That's not easy, because finding a head, loft and shaft combination that produces the same launch conditions off the tee and from the fairway is tough.
Deep-faced models can be confidence-enhancing at address when the ball is teed up, but in the fairway a big 3-wood can be intimidating. At the same time, lower-profile models are great at sweeping shots off the turf, but some look like they could easily pass right under a teed ball.
The trick is finding the club that is pleasing to your eyes at address as well as the launch monitor at your clubfitter's facility.
Taking the time to find just the right club, and the ideal shaft, should give you the confidence to hit your 3-wood anytime, anywhere. As Tiger proved, a good swing and the right fairway wood can be a potent combination.