Tiger Woods' struggles are as startling as his rise to excellence was fast

Dan O'Neill
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, February 03, 2015 | 1:00 p.m.
Tiger Woods is back in action this week. The statement demands clarity at this point.
Seeing Woods in action used to translate into witnessing some spectacular golf. Now it means watching a train wreck. Just like his meteoric and record-shattering rise, the stunning decline of the 14-time major championship winner is becoming appointment television.
The nature of the fireworks has changed.
Things reached a new low last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where Woods managed his wasted game into dead last in the field, 12 shots from the cut. He now has finished last in two tournaments in succession, and his second-round 82 in Phoenix was the worst of his 1,109 PGA Tour rounds.
It's like watching Willie Mays flounder in center field for the New York Mets, Johnny Unitas getting benched in San Diego, Hakeem Olajuwon averaging seven points for the Toronto Raptors. The obvious difference is that all of those sports legends were at the end of their illustrious careers.
Woods is 39, still 11 years from the Champions Tour. Golf careers tend to slide when players reach their 40s, it's true. But Woods isn't trending; he's free-falling. Last year, he was a 10-1 shot to win the Masters. This week, at least one Las Vegas book lists him as a 20-1 shot at Augusta, where the last of his four green jackets has been collecting dust for 10 years.
The previous time Woods scored so poorly was in 2002, when he took a standing 81-count in a veritable hurricane at Muirfield. But this was Phoenix. He was 13-over par on a golf course where his career average was right at 68.
This was like throwing a goal-line interception from the 1-yard line with Marshawn Lynch in your backfield. Sorry, Seahawks fans. Too soon?
At this point, Woods has played six rounds in the 2014-15 season, and he has broken more teeth (two) than he has par (none). His impaired short game is now built on punch-shots with long irons and run-shots with putters. It's an anti-blading approach many of us have adopted over the years – many of us who can't play.
This is no longer about witnessing history. It's about chasing the ambulance, and sirens will be wailing in San Diego this week. The Farmers Insurance Open is played on Torrey Pines, a golf course where Woods has won a PGA Tour record eight times. He also won his last major there, the 2008 U.S. Open.
You might conclude Torrey is a big part of the story, just what the doctor ordered. If there is any place on earth where Woods might gather himself, it's Torrey Pines, right?
Don't be so sure.
Hank Haney, who coached Woods for six years, believes this is more than a matter of location. On his SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show, Haney suggested Woods' shattered game is a product of the yips, a dreaded golf affliction that offers no quick fix.
Haney speaks from experience. He suffered though a yips period with his driver, and it took him eight years to exorcise the demons. The renowned swing coach parted ways with Woods shortly after the 2010 Masters, and the two have not spoken since. But when Haney observed his former client employing a bump-and-run method with a 4-iron on the first hole in Phoenix, alarms went off.
"That told me he's got a serious issue and he knows it," Haney said. "This isn't just going to go away."
Haney noted Woods has gone from fourth to 44th to 160th in scrambling over the past three PGA Tour seasons. "Is he working on the right things to climb the mountain?" Haney then asked, rhetorically.
He also noted Woods has gone though three teachers in four years. Woods hired Sean Foley after parting with Haney, then left Foley at the end of last year and hired Chris Como.
"When you start playing musical teachers," Haney said, "you know the end is pretty darn close."
The end? Wow!
When a caller to the show suggested Torrey Pines would be the perfect elixir for Woods, Haney chuckled and added it would be "a magic show if that happens."
So where is this going? On Monday, Woods dropped to No. 56 in the Official World Golf Rankings, the first time he's been in the 50s in three years. If he doesn't pick things up, he will be ineligible for the World Golf Championship in March. That would be only the second time in his career he wasn't qualified for a World Golf Championship event.
The last time Woods dropped out of the top 50 was November 2011. He came out of the corner fighting, winning the Chevron World Challenge the following week. Again, history suggests Torrey Pines offers a promising platform for a similar rebound. But recent history reminds you Woods missed the 54-hole cut at this event last year.
Before the week's out, it's possible Woods could fall further. He has not been lower than 58th in the world rankings since he won the first of his 79 PGA Tour titles in 1996. Eight months ago, he was No. 1. He's going downhill faster than his girlfriend, World Cup skiing star Lindsey Vonn.
Woods has been the show since he came on the scene as a remarkable young amateur, and he still is. There were record crowds in Phoenix, 120,000 strong to see him in action.
But the action has changed.
This article was written by Dan O'Neill from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.