Playing the Masters is a massive gamble for Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, who’s officially playing the Masters, hasn’t played competitive golf in eight weeks. 

The last time we saw him he was limping off the course at Torrey Pines, where he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open with a back injury.

Before that he was suffering through the worst spell of his career. When he announced his break from golf, his short game was so bad that many in the golf world felt he developed the yips.

The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee called Tiger at the time “the worst I’ve ever seen a tour pro around the greens.”

Tiger’s old coach Hank Haney said, “When you have the yips, you have issues. This isn’t going away. This isn’t just a turn of the switch.”

Even if what was going on with Tiger’s chipping game didn’t rise to the level of the yips — which is typically understood as a mental block that manifests itself physically — it was bad. So bad that Tiger had to voluntarily step away from the game because, in his words, “my play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf.”

This is what he was dealing with the last time we saw him:

He was hitting chips all over the place. 

If the root of Tiger’s issues are mental, as many in the golf world believe, then having these blunders flare up at Augusta is just about the worst thing imaginable for his future. You can get away with flubbing chip after chip at the Phoenix Open. You can explain it away by saying it’s only January, he’s in the middle of changing his swing, and he hasn’t played any real golf in months.

A meltdown at the Masters, though? That would be catastrophic. What if he comes out and shanks a chip on the first hole? What if it keeps happening, chip after chip, into the back-9, and he still has to finish out his round as his slinks down the leaderboard?

Playing the Masters, with no warm-up tournament to work out the kinks, is a gamble. The clock is ticking on Tiger. If he still has any hope of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ career majors record, he not only has to play all the majors he can, he has to get back to playing competitive golf on a regular basis — something he hasn’t done since 2013.

By teeing it up, though, he’s risking embarrassment on golf’s biggest stage.

Like everyone who cares about golf, we’re rooting for Tiger. And there have been some encouraging rumours in recent days. Notah Begay, Tiger’s close friend and college roommate, says Tiger has improved significantly over the past few weeks. 

The golf writer Tim Rosaforte reported that he shot a worst-ball 66 at his hometown Medalist Golf Club, which he says is even better than the course record 62 he shot in 2011.

But there’s also this from Rosaforte about Tiger’s pre-Masters practice round at Augusta:

When Tiger was struggling with his chipping two months ago a strange thing happened — other golfers started to feel sorry for him. For the first time in his career, he became the object of pity.

That react shows you just how much widespread sympathy there is for Tiger in the golf world. People really want him to fix this.

But it also shows how far he has fallen — those who once feared him are now encouraging him. If he plays at Augusta like he played two months ago, he’ll fall even further.

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