Tour Confidential: What’s Wrong With Tiger Woods?

February 2, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tiger Woods had a disastrous 2015 debut in Phoenix, with many of his ills tied to his chipping. Does Tiger have the yips? What do you expect from him at Torrey Pines next week?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger Woods is not going to cure his chipping and pitching woes in one week. It is a classic case of the yips, which has ended careers. It won’t for Woods. Bernhard Langer applied mental strength and improved technique to rid himself of his putting yips and Woods, with a similar makeup and approach, will do the same with his chipping-and-pitching yips. But not overnight. He’ll be trotting out one of his old chestnuts, about “baby steps,” soon enough here. His Friday press conference after his 82 in Phoenix was about as honest as I have ever heard him be about what’s going inside his head. He’s confused about what he wants to do with these little shots in mechanical terms and now the confusion has become a mental problem. It is an extraordinary development. But the fact is, for several years now he has not chipped and pitched with anything like the authority he once did, even when he won five times in ’13. He might have won one and maybe two Masters post-hydrant if it were not for scoopy chips and balky short putting. Golf’s hard. We know it and Tiger knows it, now as never before. It will humiliate you, all of us. This episode could humanize Woods in a way nothing else has. We’ve seen a hint of that already.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I wrote that Tiger has the yips. It looks that way. I concede that it could be just really bad form and, if that’s the case, I’d draw a direct line from these bad chips to those ugly practice swings he made during his Sean Foley period, the steep downswings and the sharply swept-to-the-left finish. They are connected.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Even Tiger’s most ardent fans can’t honestly believe he is anywhere close to winning — or even competing — on Tour right now. Sure, in time he can fix the technical and yip issues he has on chips and pitches, but it is a quantum leap to get from where he is now to executing those shots with the unblinking confidence required in the heat of competition. The chip yips are even worse than the putting yips. At least a yipped putt usually leaves a tap-in. A chunked or bladed chip often leaves one facing the exact same shot again. There’s no more debilitating affliction for golfers. It is a depressing spectacle to see the best player of his era so adrift, so lost in technical thoughts and so lacking the short-game swagger that defined his career. Paul Azinger nailed it: The artist has become an engineer.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): The legendary British writer/broadcaster Henry Longhurst once said of the yips, “If you’ve had ’em, you’ve got ’em.” I’m thinking he was addressing putting, but yippy chipping is just as devastating. Okay, it looks pretty bad for Tiger right now . Now, I’m not sure about chippers, but most yippy putters weren’t too good to begin with. Tiger possessed the greatest short game in golf for many years. I’m guessing he’ll figure it out. He’ll practice up, simplify things and make an acceptable comeback in San Diego.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I think his chipping problem is more mental than physical, so by definition that’s a yip. It can probably be corrected with some hard work on the practice range, but I’m not looking for much out of Woods at Torrey. Making the cut would be progress.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I ain’t no swing doctor, but if dems aren’t the yips I don’t know what are. Watching him to go a long iron instead of a wedge was like watching Michael Jordan use a stepladder to dunk. I don’t think you return from that in a week. I expect him to miss the cut

2. Rory McIlroy cruised to a three-shot win this week at Dubai. Has he put a Tiger-like distance (circa 2000-2008) between him and his rivals, or do we need to wait until the Florida swing, when everybody’s in the same field, to get the proper gauge?

LYNCH: This is not a deferred coronation. McIlroy wasn’t playing against a member-guest field in Dubai. He beat Stenson (ranked No. 2), Garcia (6th), and Kaymer (12th). He is indisputably the best in the world right now, and by a healthy margin.

BAMBERGER: There is not one aspect of Rory’s amazing game that is superior to Tiger’s in his prime. There are more players near to Rory’s skill level. He is a fabulous talent and a breath of fresh air, but he is not in the same league as Tiger at his best. Could he get there? Maybe, but that’s probably overstating it.

RITTER: That was still an elite field McIlroy dusted in Dubai. At this point I think we’ve all seen enough: it’s Rory and then it’s everybody else.

SENS: Well, he dominated last year too so this is nothing new. It’s not Tiger distance. But I doubt we will see that again in our lives.

VAN SICKLE: Nobody is in Rory’s wheelhouse right now. Nobody. Not Phil or Adam Scott. Martin Kaymer at least has a pair of majors but no one else is piling up multiple wins like Rory. He’s alone at the top.

PASSOV: Based on what he did against Adam, Henrik and Bubba the second half of 2014, I don’t think Rory has anything to prove. When he’s playing well, everyone else is playing for second place right now, just the way it was with Tiger in the glory days. Still, Florida and the lead up to the Masters will have my full attention. I’d like to see Rory dominate for a full 12 months, like Tiger always did, before putting him in that class. Remember, Stenson was in that same boat over the second half of 2013, and it didn’t last.

3. Twenty-four-year-old Brooks Koepka got his first PGA Tour win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. There’s a lot of buzz around Koepka. What separates him from the many good young players on Tour?

VAN SICKLE: Koepka is a crusher, like a lot of young guys. Since he turned pro, he’s learned how much harder he needed to work and he’s done it, including focusing on improving what had been a soft spot, his putting. He’s a low-key guy, he’s patient and playing overseas gave him extra experience. He’s fearless and it looks like he has a right to be. If he was a stock, I’d buy all I could right now.

PASSOV: He’s got serious length, supreme confidence and an even-keel demeanor. The fact that he’s well-coached by Claude Harmon III and that he took an unusual path to the PGA Tour, via the European Challenge Tour has given him the kind of experience that prepared him perfectly for the big-time limelight. Many have been touting him as a sure thing since late in 2013. He’s arrived.

SENS: He’s a calmer kinda bomber. So many guys can hit it forever these days, but that flat-liner’s demeanor he maintained down the stretch is hard to teach and not something they all have. He’s like Dustin Johnson without the drama.

BAMBERGER: The thing about Brooks is that he came up on a much harder road. He seems to think for himself. He looks like it’s all about the golf for him and he could not care about the trappings. I’m happy to be on the bandwagon. Cautionary note: he reminds me of Gary Woodland.

LYNCH: Long before he won in Phoenix, Koepka had been battle-hardened on the European Tour, where he won late in 2014, to go along with four wins on the Challenge Tour over there. There aren’t many 24-year-olds on any Tour who have closed out six professional wins in the last 28 months. And having Claude Harmon III as his coach certainly doesn’t hurt.

RITTER: Koepka’s path to the PGA Tour is interesting — he started out on the Challenge Tour (Europe’s version of the and won a few times before earning a promotion. He’s a classic case of how winning sometimes begets more winning, and there aren’t many 24-year-olds out there with more professional trophies on his shelf.

4. Dustin Johnson returns to the PGA Tour this week after his six-month leave of absence, which reported followed a failed drug test for cocaine. If you could ask Dustin Johnson one question at his press conference this week at Torrey, what would it be?

LYNCH: Is it just a coincidence that you are returning to play six months and five days after the PGA Tour denied you had been suspended for six months?

BAMBERGER: “Dustin, in 2012, when you didn’t play for 11 weeks in the height of the season, you and your agent said you were on the sidelines with a strained back from lifting a jet ski. Was that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? And while we’re at it, do you think the Tour should be testing players for so-called recreational drugs in the first place?”

SENS: Are you worried about squandering your talent?

PASSOV: If I wanted my question answered, I would ask, “What did you learn most about yourself during your time away?”

RITTER: Where ya been?

VAN SICKLE: What’s the capital of Vermont?

5. Lost in the hoopla of Phoenix, Dubai and the Super Bowl, Lydia Ko lost a tournament but still ascended to No. 1 in the world at age 17, the youngest ever to accomplish the feat. Is there any way to put this in perspective? Does this achievement say more about Lydia and her game, or more about the lack of dominant veteran stars on the LPGA Tour?

VAN SICKLE: Lydia is remarkable but so is the lack of depth at the top of the tour. There are a lot of pretty good players, but not many great ones. The LPGA is still waiting for a big-hitter who can dominate with her length, like a Michelle Wie or Lexi Thompson, and putts like Tiger Woods. When that person comes along, if she does, you can turn out the lights on this tour. She will be matchless.

LYNCH: The LPGA might lack a dominant player, but it doesn’t lack depth of talent. Ko earned her spot atop the game, and short of injury or burnout we should expect to see her around the top for many years to come.

PASSOV: Ko is just one of those once-in-a-generation superfreaks, with supreme mental and physical attributes that have come together perfectly, at an amazingly young age. She has displayed these traits since she first broke through at 14, winning a professional women’s event in Australia, then becoming the youngest to ever win an LPGA Tour event when she won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15. At that same age, she was astonishing in winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur, getting up and down from everywhere. Martina Hingis hit No. 1 at age 16 on a very competitive women’s tennis circuit, so it has been done. All credit to Stacey Lewis, Inbee Park, and the other ladies who are of voting age, but Ko stands out for her crazy talent.

BAMBERGER: Oh, Lydia Ko is wonderful and the LPGA is crawling with dynamic players right now. It’s all good. You might have six or more No. 1 players, ranging in age from 17 to thirtysomething, over the next two years. Good times.

SENS: It’s not that there’s a lack of talent, it’s that the talent is wide and deep. It skews younger and younger but Ko is the real deal. As we saw with Yani Tseng though, staying there is as much about loving being there as anything else

RITTER: The LPGA may not have the depth of the men’s game, but Ko’s rise to the top is still incredible. If the LPGA’s marketing team plays it right, she could become a crossover star in the same vein as Michelle Wie.

6. Francesco Molinari enjoyed a Tiger moment this week when he aced the TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole on Saturday of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. If you had to pick one hole to make a hole-in-one, which one would it be?

PASSOV: It would be easy to say Cypress Point’s 16th, except that these days, I can’t reach it with a driver. Augusta National’s 12th would be pretty sweet, as would either of the two par-3s at St. Andrews’ Old Course, just for posterity. Honestly though, I’d most like to see one disappear at No. 17, TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium. And I mean disappear into the hole, not into the water. It would be the ultimate put-down to the most fear-inducing hole I know.

VAN SICKLE: I’d take the 15th at Augusta National. It’s a par-5. I’d one-up Gene Sarazen. I’d make history because it would be impossible.

RITTER: No. 12 at Augusta. If I’m ever fortunate enough to play the course, I’m saving that scorecard. How great would it be to have a “1” on it?

BAMBERGER: The 18th at Pebble Beach. I have never heard of anyone making a one on a par-5. Or am I misreading the question?

LYNCH: One that offers a new car or a cash prize. I’m not choosy.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.