Tiger Woods has the yips, says former coach Hank Haney
Does Tiger Woods really have the yips and has Dustin Johnson conquered his “personal problems” in his infamous six-month absence?
These are the questions which will take priority at the Farmers Insurance Open which begins on Thursday at Torrey Pines.
Woods tends to monopolise the spotlight regardless of the circumstances, yet after recording an 82, the worst round of his 19-year professional career last Friday in Phoenix, the cameras are guaranteed to follow.
After the sequence of fluffed chips and thinned pitches which led to his abject seasonal bow, every lens will be on his short game.
Woods has understandably refused to go near the “Y” word and after his pro-am on Wednesday reiterated his belief that he is in-between his old swing under Sean Foley and his new swing under Chris Comu, the coach he took on after returning from back surgery last year.
But other experts are not so sure, including Hank Haney, his coach from 2004-10, a period in which he won six of his majors, including the last in 2008.
“He’s got a serious issue and he knows it,” Haney said on his own US radio show earlier this week. “When you have the yips, you have issues, this isn’t just going to go away.
"It’s not just chipping and pitching, he’s blading it out of bunkers.”
For his part, Woods has broken the habit of his career by looking beyond the tournament at hand, saying he is working towards the Masters in April.
Down at 56th in the world, Woods needs to rise at least six positions to qualify for the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral in four weeks and that will require a top 12 this week.
As a gauge of his present form, Woods was 2-1 to win this event last year; this year he is 50-1. That is a remarkable comedown for Woods, particularly at a course where he has won eight times as a pro, including that US Open seven years ago.
“The whole idea is to make sure that I’m ready for Augusta, so I got a lot of rounds to play between now and then,” Woods said.
“That’s what we’re building for and if I happen to play well enough to get into Doral, then great, I got four more rounds there.
"If I don’t, then I’m still trying to peak for Augusta.
"At the moment, my good is really good. Unfortunately, my bad is really bad.”
Johnson sounded rather more confident as he returns after testing positive for recreational drugs, for a third time, last summer.
The 30-year-old, still ranked as high as 23rd in the world despite his time away, has still to admit the reason for his “voluntary leave” from the game, instead limiting his explanation to “dealing with issues”.
Johnson, however, has been working hard and after recently becoming a father feels he is ready to make a pleasing reintroduction. “I’m sure I’ll be rusty but I usually knock off the rust pretty quick,” he told USA Today.