Tiger Woods' chipping game is all the talk before Masters
It won’t be the chip shot heard ’round the golf world – that will come after Tiger Woods misses his first green in Thursday’s opening round of the Masters Tournament and pulls out his wedge.
On Monday, however, there will be curiosity when Woods hits his first chip shot – and any other chips for the rest of the practice round.
Will it be a solid shot or another chunked chip, which he was doing nine weeks ago and contributed to him taking a hiatus from tournament golf until deciding Friday that he would play at Augusta National?
Woods’ expected appearance Monday and the condition of his short game was the talk of the day Sunday as numerous players came out for practice rounds.
Woods wasn’t among them. Before missing last year’s Masters while recovering from back surgery, he had been a Sunday fixture. He played 18 holes here last Tuesday and Friday, which might be the reason for his late arrival.
All eyes will be on him when he does show up along with Rory McIlroy, who is seeking his third consecutive major championship victory and the career Grand Slam at age 25 this week.
“They’ve got the headlines,” 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott said Sunday. “There are certainly big stories all around.”
Woods’ decision to play has created a buzz in the 79th Masters.
“Tiger’s obviously working hard. It’ll be fun,” said two-time Masters winner and defending champion Bubba Watson.
Woods has not played on the PGA Tour since he withdrew after 11 holes at Torrey Pines on Feb. 5. At the time, he said his scores (including a career-high 82 in Phoenix the week before) were not acceptable and that he wouldn’t return to competition until he could compete at the highest level.
He still didn’t feel he’d reached that point three weeks ago when he skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he’s won eight times. He also chose not to play in the two Texas tournament leading into the Masters,
“If it was me, I would have liked to have tested it and come back just to get some rust off,” three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said Sunday. “This is a protected sanctum, which is a good place to come. We’re all waiting with baited breath with what Tiger’s bringing.”
“He works very hard at home and he’s done it before,” two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer said. “He’s taken long stretches off and came out and played very well. But it’s not easy; it’s not ideal. It would have been better if he’s played four or five tournaments in the last three months.”
Mainly because of his chipping problems, Woods is 15-over in 2015 in 47 holes and has dropped out of the top 100 in the world ranking for the first time since 1996 – before the first of his 79 PGA Tour wins. Since returning to action last summer, he’s missed a cut, tied for 69th, withdrawn, missed two cuts in a row and withdrawn again.
“The chipping was a major issue,” Faldo said of Woods, who has four Masters titles, with the last one coming 10 years ago. “You’re not coming here out of curiosity. You got to believe you’ve got a bit more game than that.”
Perhaps adding to Woods’ problems is Augusta National being one of the toughest chipping courses in the world. The areas around the greens are shaved, which means a perfect strike is required, and that’s not all.
“It’s hard because the grass is always against you,” Langer said. “A lot of the greens are raised up and the ball rolls off just about every green and the grass is into you. If you catch it just a little heavy, it’s going to be a ‘chili-dip’ (a mishit). We’re always concerned about that around here.”
Woods’ play around the green has been so bad that golf teachers and players have speculated that he has the chipping yips.
“What he did was typical of the yips,” three-time Masters champ Gary Player said. “I can’t stand here and say that it is. But if he’s got the yips, he’s got a big problem because under pressure it will always come back. Somewhere along the way. Because if you’ve got the yips, you die with the yips.
“I’m just hoping it’s not because the golf world needs Tiger Woods very badly,” Player said. “We need him because he brings more people in, he raises the TV ratings and he gets people very excited with his method of playing golf. So I wish everything of the best.”
Photos: Tiger Woods