Later today, Tiger Woods will tee it up in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. The man once considered a shoo-in to break the record for career tournament victories and major titles has finished dead last in his last three tournaments and has not made the weekend cut in an event since July of last year.
Some of Tiger's recent poor performance is due to a back injury that required micro-surgery, which followed an Achilles Tendon injury, which followed a broken leg that he gutted out to win the 2008 US Open--his last major victory--which followed a series of knee injuries. It's possible that Tiger will never be "fully healthy" again--meaning the days of dominance over the entire field are likely over.
But a greater source of concern has been the complete collapse of Tiger's short-game prowess around the greens. In his last two events, he has hit more skulled shots and duffed chips than I've had in the past three years. It was so painful to watch, I hoped that at the Waste Management Open last week that Golf Channel would just stop showing--and replaying, and replaying and replaying--the embarrassing shots if for no other reason than it would become ingrained in my mind and I would duff it around like that when we can get back out on the course this spring.
This has led to rampant speculation among golf "experts" that Tiger has contracted the most dreaded "disease" in golf: the yips. The yips have ended promising careers throughout the history of the sport. There were guys who couldn't make 18-inch putts, hit the most basic chip shots or even tee off with their drivers--all because of the fear of not knowing where the ball was going to go. The yips are equal parts physical and mental--as you know what your body has to do, but at the moment of impact none of it works properly. It's why you see guys putt cross-handed, with funky grips or go to the long-putter (which will be banned at the end of this year).
Tiger maintains that his short game problem is due to his fourth (or is it fifth?) swing change in the past 15-years--and that he just needs to 'work through the process of finding the bottom of his arc"--and when he does that, the bump and runs and the flops will magically return to finishing just inches from the cup every time. But I think that in his mind, Tiger knows that he is on the precipice of seeing what was building up to be the greatest career in the history of the sport torn down by the inability to hit a simple wedge shot. How else to explain his allowing younger guys on the Tour to actually give him chipping and pitching advice on the practice range yesterday? I have seen Tiger in person at a number of events and he travels with his own entourage--does his work with his team--and exchanges a few pleasantries at most with his fellow competitors. He is not one to seek swing advice from Billy Horschel.
While I am not a Tiger Woods "fan", I'm not a "hater" either. I don't revel in his recent struggles or wish him continued failure. Tiger is good for the game and is still the only figure that can generate interest among non-golf fans. And if the storyline continues to be "Tiger misses the cut again" or "Tiger can't find his game" it doesn't bode well for the sport as a whole. So really, it's not just Tiger staring into the abyss--it's all of us who love the game.
That being said, he'll probably go out and shoot a course record 62 today--and the story will be "TIGER RETURNS IN TRIUMPHANT FORM!!"