Wednesday 20 November 2019

Woods confronts his demons head on

James Corrigan

Tiger Woods kept them waiting for his first public appearance on a course in two months. But just when the 50,000 or so patrons feared they would not get to see the 14-time Major winner he strode on to the practice area.

Woods headed directly to the chip-ping green, as if he wanted to confront the demons head on. The last time he was seen in competitive action, his wedges took on lives of their own - and made his golfing life seem like hell.

Over the 36 holes he played in Phoenix and the 11 holes he managed the following week at Torrey Pines, Woods had thinned a couple, fluffed a couple and "hoseled" one or two.

Padraig Harrington called it "car-crash TV" and experts such as his former coach Hank Haney diagnosed the "chipping yips".

Woods (39) maintained that it was simply a case of his recent swing change under new coach Chris Como effecting "a totally different release pattern" and when declaring his indefinite leave of absence after withdrawing from Torrey citing back pain, he vowed to fix the problem.

Chipping yips are impossible to fix, at least permanently, and many have been wondering if this could be the final straw on Woods' back. After all the injuries - which wrecked the American's 2014 season as he underwent spinal surgery - such an insult from the sporting gods was the last thing he needed as he reset his sights on Jack Nicklaus' record Major haul of 18.

Tiger Woods hugs Mark O'Meara on the practice range at Augusta as they prepare for the Masters
Tiger Woods hugs Mark O'Meara on the practice range at Augusta as they prepare for the Masters
Tiger Woods hugs Darren Clarke on the practice range at Augusta as they prepare for the Masters

The media had cruelly labelled this day as 'Yip Watch' as every lens trained on Woods when he eventually appeared just before 3.30pm. There was a hug for his old friend Darren Clarke, the Ryder Cup captain, and then another for his long-time hombre Mark O'Meara. There was no evidence of any yips in practice as he span them in to a few feet. But that is so often the way with this strange affliction.

After yet another hug, as well as a few jokes, with his former coach Sean Foley, so Woods continued, with his earphones in. That is actually against Augusta rules, but unsurprisingly nobody was complaining. Woods hit 69 practice chips in all, a few were fat but he holed a couple as well.

Seemingly content, he walked to the driving range and pulled out the club which once had the dishonour of being the weakest in the bag.

At 4.16, Woods left the range and headed for the first tee and so the anticipation grew like perhaps never before at Monday practice. Only Woods can create such a scene.

Of course, there is the little matter of Rory McIlroy trying to become just the sixth player in history to win the career grand slam, but still Woods monopolises the focus.

And while once his rivals were intimidated by his presence - particularly here at Augusta, where he collected four Green Jackets - now they feel sympathy as they try to contemplate the scrutiny he is under. Could someone like Martin Kaymer, the two-time Major winner and former world No 1, understand the pressures?

"To a certain extent, but who really knows what is going on in Tiger's head?" Kaymer said. "I hope he's happy. I hope he's fine. I hope he will play well this week. But what would bother me a lot is all the speculation.

"You don't have a choice; you will read about it somewhere. You will hear about it because you socialise with people.

"Mentally it must be exhausting and we know how important the mental part is in golf. It's difficult and some things I don't find very fair. You know, you should just let him be. Let him play golf, what he likes to do.

"Sometimes I look at it and find it quite sad how people treat the whole subject. It shouldn't be like this in my opinion. But that's how it is unfortunately. That is how a lot of people make their money.

"Hopefully he's strong enough, he has people to talk to, and he finds a way to compete as well as he can. Because we all know when he's around, somehow it does make us play better, as well.

"I never experienced someone who played better than him. In my era, I never played with Seve (Ballesteros) and I never played with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, those guys. So for me, what I have seen and what I have experienced, he's 'the Man'." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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