Tiger can explain it away all he likes, but he’s got the chipping yips
Let’s call it what it is. Tiger Woods has the chipping yips.
Of course he won’t say so, and maybe that’s understandable, because he has nothing to gain by admitting to one of the worst malaises any golfer can suffer. He’s Tiger Woods, after all, not some Sunday morning hacker.
But, as a wise man once told me, don’t listen to explanations, believe what your eyes see. And what’s plainly obvious is that Woods and a double-digit handicapper both have about the same likelihood of getting up-and-down from off the green right now.
"I’m just having a hard time finding the bottom (of the swing)," Woods explained after his opening two-over-par 73 on Thursday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open left him nine shots off the lead.
And while that’s true, what does it really say? Whenever difficult subjects arise, Woods resorts to the most painful mental gymnastics to explain them away.
"Because of my old pattern, I was so steep," Woods said of his chipping woes.
He then went into a lengthy explanation of the grinds on his wedges.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
The thing about golf is that it’s just about the numbers on the scorecard. There’s no room for explanations. He knows that better than anyone. "All that matters is what you shot," he used to say.
The fact is that he doesn’t have good technique on chips — still too steep and slowing down through the shot, hitting both fat and thin — but there’s something more insidious at work. He clearly has the mental scars.
How do we know?
Because after saying he’d hit "thousands and thousands" of chips after butchering so many at the Hero World Challenge in December, Woods missed the first green at TPC Scottsdale on an overcast afternoon and tried to bump a four-iron — hitting it like a putter.
It’s certainly an easier technique. Except the result didn’t change. Woods left a run-of-the-mill chip 12 feet short and, of course, missed the putt.
From the middle of the fairway on the second, he left a short iron atrociously short and hit the next chip with no spin and ran it by the hole. Another bogey.
One of many wayward drives on the third — he missed right most of the day — accidentally left him with a good shot into the par-5 green. He landed in the rough by the green and then came the other kind of yip, the most common one — the dreaded chunk.
Three holes into his 2015 season and Woods already hit the trifecta in yipped chips. He needed to hole a 4-footer just to save par.
On the fourth, Woods was short and tried the bump and run again, but it didn’t climb up the embankment. Then, the next one went long. He turned a par or maybe a bogey into a double bogey.
He hit the fifth green and made birdie, proving that hitting greens reduces the number of yip scenarios.
But Woods betrayed the fact that he’s become a yipper on the sixth. He missed the green and reached for the putter. Can’t yip a putt.
On the ninth, he needed to lob a little chip over the bunker but instead bladed one over the green. From the back of the green, he again waved the white flag and putted for bogey.
After a wild par on the 10th, Woods bailed out way right — again — on the 11th because there’s water on the left and made another bogey. He was 5 over par through 11 holes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that back in the day, when he had a vaunted short game, Tiger Woods would have been under par or at least even at this stage. He did give himself a chance of making the cut by hitting greens and making some putts on the way in. He made eagle after hitting his second shot to a foot on the par-5 13th and almost eagled the drivable 341-yard 17th, settling for birdie.
But a 73, be sure, is not what he had in mind. He turns 40 at the end of the year. Time is not on his side.
Afterwards, Woods rolled out the reasons for his bad play. He has a new swing and doesn’t trust it yet. He’s so much more shallow than he was under former swing coach Sean Foley. He’s hitting it too far because of his increased swing speed. He’s rusty …
"This is my second tournament in six months, so I just need tournament rounds like this where I can fight through it, turn it around, grind through it, and make adjustments on the fly," he said.
"It’s going to take time to get the feel of my hands where they need to be through the entire swing and shaping shots."
And, look, that’s all true. But he’s had six weeks to prepare. Woods has won his season opener seven times in his career. Was he rolling out excuses then?
He also conceded that he "didn’t get into the mental rhythm of the round for a while."
"Physically, I’m fine," he said, when asked if he was as tired as he looked. "Mentally, I’m a little bit tired from the grind of trying to piece together a round when I was 5 over par."
Remember when he was not just golf’s best player, but its ultimate grinder?
Of course, back then he could chip.