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— The stock market agrees. Callaway's stock hit $38.50 in 1997. Its earnings per share last year were less than half of what they were in 1997. In its annual report last year, the company lamented that premium golf-club sales have been flat since 1997, and the number of golfers has gone nowhere in the past four years. Callaway's woods sales were down 19 percent last year. The stock, which has been below $10, now trades under $16.

Through last year, Callaway still had the largest market share, selling 24 percent of woods by dollar volume, 26.1 percent of irons, and almost half of all putters manufactured.

TaylorMade, which has been creeping up on Callaway, overtook it this year in the woods category. Cobra, now the fastest-growing brand, has 12.7 percent of the woods market and 7.4 percent of irons.

Golf clothing maker Ashworth had flat revenues between 2000 and 2002 and then enjoyed a sales surge as it added a line of Callaway-brand duds. The stock, which topped $18 in 1998, is selling at around $8.

Aldila, maker of shafts, is an aberration. It lost money from 2001 through 2003, as its stock languished between $1.10 and $6. But it had a bang-up first quarter of 2004, and its shares have soared to $16. In golf these days, that kind of takeoff can get you banned.

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