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Pro Shop: Preview 2003

KING COBRA SS-i
With a black urethane insert on the back of the clubhead to absorb vibration and a "muscle arch" to help distribute weight to the perimeter for forgiveness, the King Cobra SS-i Irons ($559 steel shafts; $684 graphite) represent a new look for Cobra. Made from softer steel and with slightly wider sole plates and longer blades than their predecessors, the SS-i Irons are easy to hit straight and high, but they aren't too oversize or bulky for even lower handicappers to consider. Senior and women's versions of the clubs have more offset and lighter shafts. Call 800-555-9282 or visit cobragolf.com.

TAYLORMADE RAC
Late last year TaylorMade introduced its first irons with RAC technology (relative amplitude coefficient), a system intended to disperse vibration in a consistent way from shot to shot. Those clubs, the RAC OS (oversize) Irons, were designed primarily for higher-handicap players. Now TaylorMade has come to market with RAC MB (muscle back) Irons ($1,120 steel shafts only), bladelike clubs intended for better players, and RAC LT (low trajectory) Irons ($900 steel shafts; $1,100 graphite), for everyone else. The forged MB Irons have a slim top line and a small head and lack the weight cartridges on the rear that are featured on the other RAC clubs. The LTs have a medium-size head and, in our opinion after testing, should appeal to all but those very talented players dead-set on having a blade. Call 800-888-2582 or visit taylormadegolf.com.

Fairway Metals
TAYLORMADE R580
By building fairway metals made from expensive titanium, TaylorMade is able to transfer some of the best properties of its R500 Series of titanium drivers (the most widely used driver on the PGA, European and Japanese Tours) from the tee box to the fairway and rough. The R580 Fairway Metals ($399 graphite shaft) share the drivers' sleek black appearance and the weight cartridge at the rear that enables each club to be easily matched to the player's desired shaft. The clubhead may strike some players as large for a fairway metal, but we found in testing that it managed to power through the rough and was as forgiving of mis-hits as any metalwoods we have tried. Available in three, five and seven. Call 800-888-2582 or visit taylormadegolf.com.

CALLAWAY GREAT BIG BERTHA II
Like TaylorMade, Callaway is extending its recently introduced titanium driver line (in Callaway's case, the Great Big Bertha II) into fairway metals. With thin, "hot" clubfaces, the Great Big Bertha II Titanium Fairway Metals ($440 graphite shaft) are, according to the company, unusually forgiving across a large section of the clubface; after trying them we wouldn't disagree. We also found them easy to hit on consistent trajectories and, in dark blue, easy on the eye. Available in seven right-hand and three left-hand models. Call 800-588-9836 or visit callawaygolf.com.

NIKE T-40 SERIES
The key feature of Nike's first fairway metals, the steel-headed T-40 Series ($229 steel shaft; $279 graphite), is the titular plug in the sole: forty grams of heavy tungsten. The insert puts more than two-thirds of the clubhead's weight below the axis of the ball, which helps in both lifting shots off a tight fairway lie and, in conjunction with the cambered sole, slashing through rough. The Oversized T-40 Metalwoods (pictured) come in the same deep blue as Nike's drivers and are available in three, four, five, seven and nine. The T-40 Tour Metalwoods (in strong three, three, four and five) have smaller clubheads and come in gray without the alignment dots on the crown. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.

Balls
MAXFLI M3 TOUR
Maxfli, which was recently purchased by TaylorMade, has brought back the circle-within-a-circle "roundel" stamp on its balls, dating from the 1950s, but the balls themselves are very up-to-date. Both the M3 Tour (pictured) and M3 Tour LT (both $52 per dozen) are three-piece balls with urethane covers and a midlayer infused with tungsten, a heavy metal that allows the large solid core to be a little bit lighter and achieve more velocity. The M3 Tour, with a red roundel and more dimples, is designed to fly long off the tee on a medium trajectory. The M3 Tour LT, with a black roundel, flies on a lower trajectory and spins more, especially with the short irons. Call 800-888-2582 or visit maxfli.com.

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