SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The category is, Things You Say After Watching Tiger Woods Struggle (and Fail) to Break 80 While He Shoots His Worst Pro Round Ever on a Rainy Friday Morning at the Waste Management Phoenix Open
Well, there goes the Vardon Trophy…
Aww, the Presidents Cup team can win without Tiger, anyway…
Operator, get me the number for 9-1-1...
Tiger may be related to Aaron Baddeley’s brother, Chip Baddeley…
Do these new wedges make me look chunky?...
How many more reps can you have in just one round?...
Pardon the jokes, this is actually no laughing matter. Tiger Woods, as stated previously, appears to have caught the chipping yips.
This is not something any golfer wants to write or read. Even repeating the y-word goes against golf’s code of behavior because saying it or writing it may increase the chances of you catching it. It could be contagious. It could be like saying some other-world creature's name three times fast into a mirror in a horror movie, causing him to come to life. You just don’t do it.
But it had to be said. Because that’s how it looks.
Tuesday, Tiger made his return to mainstream golf by clarifying that he hit “thousands and thousands and thousands” of chips to straighten out his short game, which was in tatters at the Hero World Challenge last year when he last saw him. He had a flu bug, he was sick, and his game was rusty so we could pass off those shots as aberrations.
Thursday, Tiger returned with an erratic long game and an ugly short game, although he salvaged a 73.
Friday, Tiger’s short game took a turn for the worse. He shot 82. He chunked some, boned some, thinned some and more. Classic y-word stuff. (Don’t make me write it again, puh-leeze!)
It was brutal. It was awful. It was gory.
Afterward, Tiger Woods did something unusual. He laughed it off. Good for him. It was the best possible thing he could have done, the kind of move he’s rarely done with the media in the past. It lightened the mood and, more important, it made you like him.
Woods stood up before a battery of cameras and microphones by the clubhouse steps and said with a big smile, “I’m just doing this so I don’t get fined.”
Stealing Marshawn Lynch’s Super Bowl press conference line was good stuff. Tiger can be funny sometimes. Every real golfer winced on all those horrific chips. No golfer wishes that kind of thing on another. So Tiger’s sudden failings are breeding sympathy. And his newer, more pleasant side is winning people over.
“I was caught between patterns—old pattern, new pattern,” Tiger explained. “I got it better, more committed to what I was doing on my back nine and hit some better shots. But I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
He was talking about his full swing there. He didn’t get asked about his abysmal wedge play the day before but this time, he was.
“Well, it’s the pattern,” Tiger said. “I was much deeper, overall, swing-wise… with Sean (Foley). Now I’m very shallow. So that, in turn, affects the chipping. I’m not bottoming out in the same spot. It’s a different spot.”
Here’s just how ugly it got Friday. Tiger teed off on the back nine. He bogeyed the 11th after a poor drive but the y-thing—or the different technique, according to Tiger—picked up with a poor pitch at the par-5 13th, where he missed the green with his second shot. He got his next one to 15 feet. Not very good. Par.
Tiger’s yanked drive left stuck in a bush at the 14th, forcing him to take a penalty drop for an unplayable lie. He got his third shot near the green, then chunked his chip and left it 25 feet short. Double bogey.
At 15, he pulled another tee shot into the lake. He took a drop, laid up and still had 230 yards in for his fourth shot, which he deposited in a bunker. Tiger didn’t get the bunker shot on the green. Then he chunked another chip—chunk! Triple bogey. And make a note, that’s only his second triple bogey on a par 5 in his career.
Tiger sank a 20-footer for par after a bunker shot at the 16th, drawing boos from the crowd for the tee ball but roars from the gallery for the pout.
He left his tee shot 15 yards short of the green at the par-4 17th and tried to hit a bump-and-run shot with a straight-faced iron, either because he’d lost confidence in his wedges or because his ball settled into a sand divot. This grounder ran up to the green and rolled back off the right. He had to chip again, got it to five feet and pulled the putt. Bogey.
After a nice drive at the 18th, he chunked a 9-iron into the front bunker, played a decent sand shot to six feet and missed badly again. Bogey.
That’s 44 on the back nine. A Hank Aaron if you’re a senior citizen. A Reggie Jackson is you’re almost a senior citizen.
To add injury to insult, if that’s even possible, Woods was paired with young Jordan Spieth, who was putting on a chipping clinic while Woods looked ready to visit a clinic.
Let’s go to the real low point. At the par-3 fourth, Woods airmailed the green into the gallery. From there, he bladed—yes, flat-out boned—a chip shot into the front bunker. He splashed out and two-putted for double bogey. It was the OMG moment of the day for Tiger.
That hole display was all you really needed to know but at the sixth, after he made a rare birdie at the fifth, Tiger thinned a bunker shot across the green and made another bogey.
That’s enough. It was a bad day. Woods was asked how he was able to laugh off a round that bad.
“That’s golf,” he said. “We all have days like this. Unfortunately, mine was in a public forum. Even on bad days like this, you just keep fighting.”
The $64 million dollar question came next. Tiger, do you feel like the chipping is mental? That’s polite talk for the y-word. The questioner knew it, Tiger knew it. “It is mental to an extent because the physical pattern is different,” he answered. “So obviously, the trust is not quite there. Yeah, it’s mental to an extent but I need to physically get the club in a better spot.”
The crowds were supportive of Tiger all the way around. He hadn’t played here in 14 years and even though his return lasted all of two days—the first time he’s ever missed back-to-back cuts, for the record—they appreciated the fact that he showed up and played. Watching Tiger play is watching history, it’s come to that.
So in that regard, this was Black Friday at the Phoenix Open. Tiger misses the cut and local favorite Phil Mickelson is not in contention. Well, there’s always that football game up the road on Sunday.
If this really is the y-word for chipping, and this virus has felled good players over the years, it’s going to be a big red flag for Tiger. He knows how to hit iron shots. He’ll get that part of his swing back. The chipping, if it is mental or if it turns mental, there’s no real cure for that. Chris Couch, a former Tour regular, took to chipping crosshanded for relief and even ended up hitting full wedge shots from 100 yards crosshanded. At the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament final, I saw a player chip one-handed. I knew what that meant.
Real golfers hope Tiger doesn’t have the chipping y-word. Maybe golf needs Tiger, but definitely golf still wants Tiger.
It looks as if we’re all going to have to give up one well-known chase—Tiger’s 14 majors to the 18 won by Jack Nicklaus—and focus on a new one: Tiger trying to find a cure for his short game.
If he’s battling the y-word, well, just remember that he’s still Tiger Woods. Maybe he can find a cure. Y-not?