Gearing Up for Golf at the Masters

Casual golf fans might be surprised to learn that the Masters, the most revered of golf's four major championships, generally features the quartet's weakest field. But the equipment in play is the latest and greatest.

The Masters' home course, Augusta National Golf Club, is even hillier than it looks on TV, making high-performance footwear critical. FootJoy, a division of Fortune Brands ( FO), usually supplies most of the shoes players wear at PGA Tour events. Fans will likely see 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, reigning British champion Padraig Harrington and sleeper pick Steve Stricker in the company's new SYNR-G shoe. The shoe uses memory foam, the same stuff from mattresses, to mold the shoe to a player's foot.

Ping, the maker of the iWi D66 putter, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

TaylorMade has led the market for drivers in recent years, powered by the adjustable-weight technology of its r7 series. As of March 20, everyday players got to join the pros in using the R9 series. The R9 lets players alter the club's weighting scheme and the angle of its face, thanks to a small aluminum sleeve placed over the tip of the shaft. There are eight clubface configurations and three weight configurations, yielding 24 potential setups. The club offers 75 yards of side-to-side trajectory change, according to the company.

Nike ( NKE) Golf sponsors the defending champion and, as you may recall, his name isn't Tiger Woods. Trevor Immelman may have a new driver in his bag this time: the SQ Dymo STR8-FIT. Immelman recently switched to the Victory Red Split Cavity for his irons and Nike ONE Tour for balls. He's using a prototype for putting.

As for Woods, his attempt to wrest back the green jacket will involve new clubs: the SQ DYMO driver, Victory Red TW Blade irons and 56- and 60-degree Victory Red wedges.

Cobra Golf has moved back up the industry leader board. Players Geoff Ogilvy and Camilo Villegas will be bombing S9-1 drivers off the tee. The driver offers modern performance in a club that looks and sounds pleasantly traditional.

Japan's Srixon acquired clubmaker Cleveland Golf last year. Srixon's new Z Star line of balls has become the choice of several top pros. The top choice by a wide margin remains the newly refashioned Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1. At Augusta, contenders Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley, Robert Allenby and Henrik Stenson will use a Z Star, which offers low spin on drivers and high spin on short irons.

Cleveland is best known as a wedge maker, and many players' short games will rely on CG14 wedges, whose Gelback material behind the clubface's hitting area dampens vibration. The company has also had some Tour success with its sister brand Never Compromise's X-Ray putter, which features an unusual translucent face.

Callaway Golf ( ELY) has been golf's top-selling iron manufacturer for years. Two-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els use Tour Authentic X-Protoype irons. For his 3- and 4-iron, Mickelson uses the more forgiving X-Forged model.

Augusta National is all about tradition, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the innovative Ping brand. Ryder Cup star Hunter Mahan will try to capture his first major with its latest gear: the Rapture V2 driver, S57 irons and an iWi D66 putter, which offers nine weight combinations, allowing you to customize the putter to suit your stroke or the greens.
Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Staatsburg, N.Y. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.