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2005 Preview: The Best New Clubs of the Year

DRIVERS

The two breakthrough clubs of recent years—the Odyssey 2-Ball putter and the TaylorMade r7 driver—set off storms of technological creativity. The newly released clubs in these pages, particularly the MacGregor MACTEC NVG driver and our four featured putters, continue the innovation.

CLEVELAND LAUNCHER 460 COMP
Priced at $89 more than the company's titanium-only Launcher, the Cleveland Launcher 460 Comp ($479) is worth it. For one thing, Cleveland got the sound right—this club doesn't thud, it barks. For another, the 460 Comp is more forgiving, thanks to a redistribution of the weight saved in the composite carbon fiber–titanium crown out to the soleplate and the perimeter. Call 800-999-6263 or visit clevelandgolf.com.

ADAMS REDLINE RPM
Only the rear part of the crown in the Adams Redline RPM ($350) is made from lightweight composite, but that's enough to compensate for the heavy chunk of tungsten nestled in the back of the soleplate. This "repositioning of mass" (the "RPM" in the name) lowers the center of gravity and discourages the clubhead from twisting on mis-hits. The RPM 430Q ($450) has movable weights like the TaylorMade r7. In both neutral and draw versions. Call 800-709-6142 or visit adamsgolf.com.

MACGREGOR MACTEC NVG
This club has more stories in it than P.G. Wodehouse's Oldest Member. Designed by MacGregor's division in Japan, where it's been a big seller, the MACTEC NVG ($450) has four tungsten plugs distributed around the clubhead. The non-interchangeable weights are different for various lofts, delivering different balance and ball-flight characteristics. The crown is made from a thinner titanium than the rest of the body, and the electric blue shaft has three flex points and four "zones" to better store up and release energy. Confused?Suffice it to say the MACTEC can really pound the ball. Call 800-841-4358 or visit macgregorgolf.com.

CALLAWAY BIG BERTHA TITANIUM 454
You'd think that Callaway, as the company that came up with the Big Bertha driver in 1991, would have been among the first to challenge the USGA's 460-cubic-centimeter limit on clubhead size. But in fact the new 454-cc Big Bertha Titanium 454 ($375) is the manufacturer's first driver to exceed even 415cc in volume. Callaway has recently been pushing composite (graphite and titanium) metalwood technology, but this more traditional club is a gem. With an ultrathin face high in springlike effect and a large sweet spot, the 454 hardly bats an eye at slight mis-hits, and it makes a pleasing sharp sound. Call 800-588-9836 or visit callawaygolf.com.

HYBRIDS

KING COBRA BAFFLER UTILITY METAL
King Cobra's Baffler has gone through several iterations. The most recent, the Baffler Utility Metal ($160 steel, $180 graphite), is a woodlike hybrid that gets the ball up in the air fast. Partly responsible is the extra-thin face, which saved weight that the engineers could position elsewhere to gain both height and forgiveness. The head is not too large and has a contoured sole, which helps in lifting balls out of the rough. All in all, a small club that does big work. In eighteen, twenty, twenty-three and twenty-six degrees. Call 800-225-8500 or visit cobragolf.com.

TOUR EDGE HOUDINI
The magic of the Tour Edge Houdini ($89 steel, $99 graphite) is on its bottom. Thanks to a thin, lightweight face, most of the weight of this wood-like club is pushed down into the sole to promote high flight. The club's low profile and curved radial soleplate help it function well in almost any turf condition. Adding to the ease of use is a shaft somewhat shorter than that of most hybrids, enhancing control if not distance. Available in five lofts, from sixteen to twenty-six degrees. Call 800-515-3343 or visit touredge.com.

BRIDGESTONE J33 AIRMUSCLE
Replacing long irons with hybrids is great in theory, but in practice many golfers have difficulty finding one they like. These two could work for those who hit their long irons just fine, thank you, but might still benefit from some extra height, distance and forgiveness. The Bridgestone J33 AirMuscle ($199) has almost no offset, which should appeal to more-skilled golfers. The hollow, two-piece forged construction delivers a stable, explosive feel at impact, but at address the club looks comfortingly like a traditional iron. In nineteen and twenty-one degrees, right-hand only. Call 800-358-6518 or visit bridgestonegolf.com.

CLEVELAND LDI
The Cleveland LDI (Launcher Driving Iron; $150 steel, $191 graphite) has a flat face rather than the bulge and roll found in most hybrids. This will help players who would like to work the ball better. With a sleek, ironlike profile, hollow construction, Aldila graphite shaft designed for hybrids and a dulled-finish topline (to prevent glare), this is a players' club. (This spring Cleveland will also introduce a larger-headed hybrid, called the Halo, for those who want even more forgiveness.) In eighteen, twenty-one and twenty-four degrees. Call 800-999-6263 or visit clevelandgolf.com.

IRONS

KING COBRA INERTIA SERIES
King Cobra's new Inertia series of irons provides three game-improvement options. The 3100I/H ($560 steel, $680 graphite) has a closed-in undercut channel on the back that pushes the all-important center of gravity back and low, creating a high ball launch. Its large clubhead, generous offset and strong perimeter weighting make it forgiving. The 3400I/XH (for "extra high" launch) has a bigger clubhead and a cavity that becomes hollow and progressively larger as the clubs get longer, while the 2300I/M has the smallest clubhead of the three sets and launches the lowest. Call 800-225-8500 or visit cobragolf.com.

MACGREGOR V-FOIL M675
Think of the forged MacGregor V-FOIL M675 irons ($900, steel only) as muscle backs on steroids. The weighted bulbous backs of the long irons are Schwarzeneggerian in proportion but have the effect of enhancing vertical lift on the ball as well as forgiveness. As the set grows shorter, the muscles become less pronounced and the irons more bladelike, but the feel of these clubs is consistently pure. The milled face and MacGregor medallion on the back are added touches of style. Call 800-841-4358 or visit macgregorgolf.com.

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