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Comparing the putters of Hideki Matsuyama and his hero, Tiger Woods

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Hideki Matsuyama won last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii in emphatic style, knocking a 3-wood to 3 feet to win a playoff with Russell Henley. That club may have produced the winning shot, but the putter was Matsuyama’s most important club at Waialae.

Matsuyama led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting en route to his second win of the season. The shortest club in the bag often befuddles Matsuyama, keeping him from capitalizing on his tremendous ballstriking. Last week was an exception, though.

Matsuyama’s hot putting week inspired us to take a closer look at that club. Despite his struggles on the greens, and propensity to experiment, he is mostly loyal to one putter. Like many players his age, Matsuyama was inspired by Tiger Woods and Matsuyama’s flat stick, and his propensity to stick with it, is similar to Woods.

At first glance, the Scotty Cameron GSS putters that Matsuyama and Woods use are quite similar. If you can’t tell the difference, we don’t blame you. They’re both Scotty Cameron Newport 2 models, they’re both made from high-end German stainless steel and they both have the players’ names stamped on the back bumpers.

Both putters have a winning history, too.

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Scotty Cameron tour rep Drew Page said Matsuyama has used the Timeless Newport 2 GSS 350-gram putter for seven of his eight PGA TOUR victories (his Masters victory is the lone exception). The putter’s first win came at the 2014 Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, and the most recent was at last week’s Sony Open.

Woods’ Newport 2 GSS putter, even more impressively, has been in the bag for 14 of his 15 major championship victories (minus the 1997 Masters). The putter’s first major win came at the 1999 PGA Championship, and most recently was used by Woods in his win at the 2019 Masters.

A closer look at both putters, however, shows a few subtle differences, aside from merely cosmetics.

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First off, Woods’ putter has a single dot on the topline, whereas Matsuyama’s has a straight line on the back flange. This alteration is simply based on player preference, and for everyday golfers, it’s important to find the right sightline for your setup.

There’s another, even subtler difference between the putters, though. For that, let’s look to the face.

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The face of Woods’ putter is milled and then made completely smooth, while Matsuyama’s still has hints of milling marks.

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In the construction of golf clubs, milling machines help to enhance precision and ensure that the build matches the exact design intent. Also, many modern putters intentionally have deep milling marks on their faces to influence sound and feel. All things being equal, deeper milling marks will generally produce a softer feel and quieter sound than shallow millings or flat faces.

Keeping that in mind, it may seem the faces of Woods’ and Matsuyama’s putters are drastically different. Actually, though, Matsuyama’s milling marks are made purposely shallow to produce a louder sound and more feedback, similar to Woods’ smooth-faced design.

“(Matsuyama) likes very light milling on his putter, where you can just see the mill marks on it,” said Page, who works closely with Matsuyama on his putter. “He likes a louder hit on his putters, so that’s why it’s not quite a smooth face like Tiger’s, but you can just see a couple of the mill marks. That’s so you can hear that pop, that feedback. That’s what he likes.”

Therefore, although the faces of Woods’ and Matsuyama’s putters may seem different on the surface, they actually have a similar effect.

Even the differences aren’t so different.

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Looking at both putters, in general, one could reasonably assume that Matsuyama’s putter was inspired by Woods’ putter. While Matsuyama hasn’t spoken on the matter himself, Page’s insights reveal that the assumption may not be too far off base. Matsuyama has never hidden his admiration for the 82-time TOUR winner.

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“He always loves looking at Tiger’s putter, or asking about Tiger’s putters,” Page said. “I’m sure that stems from him as a kid, and everybody growing up watching Tiger. And he loves Scotty Cameron putters. He’s always asking about Tiger’s putters, and I see him looking at it.”

Of course, if you pay attention to golf equipment on the PGA TOUR, you know Matsuyama is much more prone to tinker with his putters than Woods. It’s not uncommon to see Matsuyama show up to the practice rounds of a PGA TOUR event with five different putters in the bag to test. Some weeks, he actually does switch to a new putter for competition, but most of the time he goes back to old faithful when the tournament starts.

“It’s his most trusted putter that he’s found,” Page told GolfWRX. “It’s the one that’s always suited his eye. … It’s really just the shape of the head. It’s got a high toe on it. And, if you notice, he always likes to have the toe off the ground just a little bit. Obviously, he likes to tinker with other stuff, but he always goes back to that putter. It feels the most comfortable for him. Other than the Masters victory, everything else has been won with that Timeless GSS.”

Despite Matsuyama’s putter being nearly a decade old, it may have looked brand new at the 2022 Sony Open. That’s because Matsuyama gave it a proverbial facelift during the off-season. Scotty Cameron refinished Matsuyama’s putter because, according to Page, it was “starting to look a little sloppy for his liking.”

And maybe that’s the biggest difference between Matsuyama’s Scotty Cameron putter and Woods’ version. In all its glory, Woods’ putter of 20-plus years continues to have chipped paint, dents all over, and wear marks on the direct center of the face. Matsuyama’s flatstick, on the other hand, is looking fresh off the milling machine.

While Matsuyama may show up to his next PGA TOUR event with a slew of putters to test, history shows he’ll probably use the Scotty Cameron Timeless GSS 350 putter.

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