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2005 Preview: The Best New Clubs of the Year

CALLAWAY X-18
These attractive successors to the popular X-16 line combine forgiveness with a little more workability than Callaway's Big Bertha irons provide. The X-18 Pro Series model ($110 per club steel, $140 graphite) has a notched undercut channel on the back that throws more weight out to the perimeter and back to the rear. This helps the club resist twisting at impact and promotes a high ball flight. The feel and sound at impact are luxurious. Also available are standard X-18's, with more offset and slightly larger heads, and the forged X-Tour. Call 800-588-9836 or visit callawaygolf.com.

NIKE PRO COMBO OS
Nike tweaked its forged Pro Combo irons to create a better option for mid to high handicappers. At the long-iron end of the set, the Pro Combo OS (for "oversize") irons ($899, steel only) have an undercut channel to push back the center of gravity and help get the ball up fast. The five- through seven-irons have no channel but lots of cavity-back perimeter weighting, while the eight-iron and higher add a muscle back inside the cavity to lower the ball flight and enhance control. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.

WEDGES

BEN HOGAN SURE-OUT SAND WEDGE
Continuing its move into clubs with more game-improvement features, Ben Hogan has revived an old sand wedge design for the bunker-challenged. The salient feature of the Sure-Out Sand Wedge ($115) is the heavy protruding flange low and to the rear. The flange's mass helps prevent dragging through the sand but, more important for many, inspires confidence. The downside of the flange is that from tight lies around the green it limits the degree to which you can open up the clubface and practice Mickelson-like magic. With a beautiful nickel-chrome finish. Call 866-834-6532 or visit benhogan.com.

NIKE SV
Nike is replacing its Forged Wedge with this dark beauty, the SV ($99). Finished in black nickel, the SV (for "spin velocity") is cast, not forged, from soft steel, but the clubface is computer milled to be perfectly flat and has combination U- and V-shaped grooves. This mix, the company says, promotes consistent ball reaction and thus improved touch around the greens. The bounces and lie angles of the wedges, which come in five lofts between fifty and sixty degrees, are those most preferred among Tour players, and the Dynamic Gold shaft (replacing the Nike proprietary shaft used in the Forged Wedges) is also highly regarded by pros. A versatile, aesthetically pleasing line of wedges that nearly all will enjoy. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.

PUTTERS

ODYSSEY WHITE STEEL 2-BALL
The latest wrinkle from Odyssey—White Steel—combines a new, precision-milled stainless-steel face with the soft urethane insert found in its popular White Hot line. The trapezoidal steel face is imbedded in the resilient urethane—two inserts in one putter. The result is a satisfying percussive sound and soft feel at impact that seems to extend the sensation throughout the club. All putters in this line have a brushed satin alignment strip; on the White Steel 2-Ball ($215) the strip brackets the white discs, helping the player set up the face square to the target. White Steel putters are also available in 2-Ball blade, traditional heel-toe weighted blade and scoop-back blade versions. Call 800-588-9836 or visit callawaygolf.com.

NIKE BLUE CHIP OZ T160
Yes, it's a matter of taste, but we think this putter just plain looks cool. The Nike Blue Chip OZ T160 ($167) qualifies as a blade, but the round tungsten plug behind the sweet spot, constituting nearly half of the clubhead's overall mass, lends it some of the playing characteristics of a mallet. That much weight to the rear stabilizes the club through impact and helps lift the ball out of any slight depression it may sit in on the green. The blue softer-than-steel face insert gives off a well-tuned sound, and the grip is see-through—both aesthetic bonuses. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.

BEN HOGAN BY BETTINARDI HAWK
Milled from a solid chunk of aluminum, the Ben Hogan by Bettinardi BHB11 Hawk ($190) and its sibling, the triangular-shaped BHB12, are feel putters in mallet form. More than 60 percent of the weight sits directly behind the ball, which helps restrict deflection on off-center hits. The center of gravity is located nearly an inch and a half behind the face, which helps promote an accelerating stroke. The feel comes from the subtle resonance of the entire putter when the honeycombed clubface strikes the ball. Both models have a black, grooved T-shaped alignment feature on top and an almost-neon lime green grip. Call 866-834-6532 or visit benhogan.com.

KING COBRA INNER MALLET
Here is another aluminum putter, albeit one with a tungsten weight imbedded at the rear of the soleplate to push back the center of gravity (see above for the advantages). The King Cobra Inner Mallet IM-02 ($150) and its IM-01 running mate (25 percent longer from front to back) are designed to look smaller at address than they really are. The eye focuses on the lighter-tinctured "inner mallet" so your mind doesn't think "bulk" when you pull the trigger. But it's the black half-moon-shaped outer mallet that carries most of the swing-flaw-correcting ballast. Tiny crosshatches are milled into the face—a nice touch. Call 800-225-8500 or visit cobragolf.com.

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