Recent improvements in irons haven't been as dramatic as those in metalwoods, but they are evolving. New casting techniques allow for deeper cavities, as on the Mizuno MX-17 and the Cleveland Launcher, and for more strategic weight placements, as on Srixon's new I-403 AD and updated versions of TaylorMade's popular RAC irons.
MIZUNO MP-32 AND MX-17 IRONS
Two new irons from Mizuno are for opposite ends of the handicap list. The MP-32s ($1,099) are forged muscle backs for better players. The news here is a "cut-muscle" groove in the back of the club. The weight saved there is moved elsewhere to create a consistent sweet spot and a higher trajectory on the long irons to allow for more aggressive shots into greens. The MX-17s ($699 steel, $799 graphite) have all the game-improvement features you usually don't associate with Mizuno: a large, perimeterweighted head; thick topline; wide soleplate; generous offset; and an undercut flange. Also un-Mizunolike, they aren't forged but cast. These are the most forgiving irons the company has ever built. Call 800-333-7888 or visit mizunousa.com.
CLEVELAND LAUNCHER IRONS
Until now, Cleveland refrained from lavishing the Launcher title on any product but its popular metalwoods. The new Launcher irons ($800 steel, $928 graphite) are worthy of the name—they certainly send the ball high. Designed for mid- to high-handicap players, they feature a deep pocket cavity behind the clubface and a very wide soleplate, which combine to push the center of gravity low and behind the face, promoting that towering trajectory. With a large sweet spot and slice-fighting offset, these clubs should find many fans. Call 800-999-6263 or visit clevelandgolf.com.
NIKE NDS IRONS
When Nike entered the club business nearly three years ago, it started with expensive, forged blades for low handicappers, followed by the mixed Pro Combo set and the superforgiving Slingshots. Now Nike completes its iron lineup with the NDS (Nike Distance Series), an inexpensive game-improvement club ($479 steel, $599 graphite). Progressive in design like the Pro Combos and Slingshots, the NDSs have wider notches on the back of the long irons to push weight out to the toe and heel, improving forgiveness, and narrower notches on the short irons for a lower trajectory and more control. A very solid club, although in steel there's only one shaft option—"uniflex," which gradually gets stiffer as the clubs get shorter—and the foil-like backing can quickly get banged up in your bag. Graphite comes in regular, stiff, women's and senior flexes. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.
SRIXON I-403 AD IRONS
These sweet, big-headed irons from Srixon, the I-403 ADs ($599 steel, $699 graphite), strike an appealing balance between high-handicap forgiveness and the look of clubs for low handicappers. Visible nickel-tungsten weights in the sole create a low center of gravity, promoting a high launch angle without a protruding flange across the back. Progressive offset and hosel lengths that grow shorter as the clubs get longer help tailor each club to the task at hand—closing the face quicker on the long irons, allowing for more control on the short irons. The extra-soft stainless steel produces a pleasingly delicate feel at impact. Call 888-477-4966 or visit srixon.com.
TAYLORMADE RAC LT IRONS
TaylorMade has tweaked its popular RAC LT (for low trajectory) irons ($900 steel, $1,100 graphite), making the clubface a bit thinner, to save weight, and expanding the size of the "feel pockets," which promotes . . . better feel! We frankly can't tell much difference between these and the previous iteration of LTs, but that's not to say we don't love them. They are forgiving enough for mid- to high-handicappers, yet they produce a penetrating, workable trajectory that even many scratch players will be happy with. TaylorMade also has new, fine-tuned versions of its game-improvement RAC OS and experts-only RAC TP Forged irons. Call 800-888-2582 or visit taylormadegolf.com.
PING G2 DRIVER
Ping's new G2 ($350) has a 460-cubic-centimeter titanium head that somehow doesn't look that large, and it hits the ball a mile. Weight saved by thinning out parts of both the face and the soleplate was moved low and back to create a high launch angle and low spin rate. We liked the unique alignment aid on the crown: an almost holographic crescent moon that may have you believing as you set up that the stars are in alignment, too. A G2 EZ version for players with slower swing speeds and a G2 L for ladies are also available. Call 800-474-6434 or visit pinggolf.com.
PRECEPT EC FUEL DRIVER
The tungsten weight at the rear of the soleplate helps move the sweet spot on the 430-cc Precept EC Fuel ($360) down to the center of the face, which is lower than on most big-headed drivers. That may feel more natural to players who have resisted switching from smaller-headed drivers. The EC refers to an "elastomer compound" insert inside the clubhead that reduces vibration. The clubhead has a deep face and a teardrop shape. Call 800-358-6319 or visit preceptgolf.com.