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Battle of the Bag: who will emerge the triumphant gamers for the 2008 season?

RT’s Note: James McCarten is the new voice of Gearhead, Ontgolf.ca’s equipment section. With 14 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James writes a monthly golf column for Up!, the in-flight magazine for WestJet Airlines, and reviews books for Golf Canada magazine, the official publication of the Royal Canadian Golf Association. He also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron. He’ll post regularly in this space, including upcoming posts from the golf merchandise show in Orlando.

Theres a battle royale raging in the bottom of my golf bag.

Cynics, of course, will always say its never easy to pull a club when your bag is filled to overflowing with the latest and greatest in golf technology. You can only use one club at a time, they sneer as I lug an overflowing bag to the indoor range and struggle to wrestle free one of the more stubborn weapons, many of them differing by as little as a single degree of loft.

January, you see, is the time to experiment, and so my swing is holding open auditions for the 14 coveted spots in the bag as we gear up _ so to speak _ for the 2008 season. Im convinced that when a club wont come out, its because its rivals are jealously holding it back, desperate to thwart its chances at making first string.

Right now, its the hybrids that are having it out.

In one corner, the undisputed champ _ the 20-degree Nickent 4DX Ironwood, kitted out with a proprietary Proforce V2 shaft and a custom-installed midsize Lampkin Torsion Control grip to fill my overgrown mitts.

The Nickent is a piece of eye candy that sets up like no other hybrid Ive seen, with a gorgeous half-heart-shaped crown that gives it the appearance of a shrunken-down driver. The neon green, exhaust-manifold look of the tungsten inserts is invisible at address, thankfully, as is the cool winged N logo on the toe. Contact is solid, ball flight a beautiful thing to behold.

I lent an identical club to a buddy of mine and hes refusing to part with it.

Across the canvas is a sentimental fave _ the Sonartec HB-001, a beautifully balanced, no-nonsense 19-degree stallion with the sort of strong traditional aesthetics that appeal to better players, right down to the knitted pom-pom headcover. Again, well-struck shots are heartwarming, although forgiveness is not this clubs strong suit.

Tag-teaming with Sonartec is a 20-degree Adams Golf Boxer A30s hybrid, which I have found to be a remarkably consistent, easy-to-hit club that downright refuses to steer the ball anywhere but straight.

The Boxer, however, came out of the round spitting bloody Chiclets, thanks in part to a lack of workability and a decidedly non-traditional look that troubles me. Make no mistake, however “ while its not a players club per se, the Boxer is a serious option if you struggle to keep Ëœem on the short grass.

Even my go-to hybrid, a 19-degree Cleveland Halo, is getting nervous _ so much so that whenever I try to pull the Nickent, the Sonartec and the Cleveland conspire together to keep it from coming out.

All four will square off this week in Orlando, where Ill be checking out the latest and greatest from the PGA Merchandise Show, which runs Wednesday through Friday. Look for regular updates in this space and watch for the winner of the Great Hybrid Shootout.

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James McCarten

When James McCarten isn't at the Ottawa offices of The Canadian Press, where he works as parliamentary news editor, he's either on the golf course or putting off his latest freelance golf-writing gig to spend time with wife Lisa and school-age kids Claire and Lucas. With 20 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron.

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