Tiger Woods has got himself a very big problem, and it might just be something that plagues him for the remainder of his career.
Woods has lost his ability to make putts on Sunday afternoons.
And contrary to popular belief, this is not a new issue for Woods. In fact, it’s a problem that has been building for several years now and just happened reached a whole new plateau this past Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Woods’ Sunday afternoon putting woes can really be traced back to 2009.
Had Woods been able to sink those must-make putts he used to drop like clockwork during the earlier part of his career, he might very well have won the 2009 Masters, 2009 U.S. Open, 2009 PGA Championship, 2010 Masters, 2010 U.S. Open and 2011 Masters.
That’s six majors championships Woods has let slip through his hands over the past three years due in large part to his inability to sink the big putts on Sunday afternoon.
And then we come to the 2012 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Playing alongside rival Phil Mickelson for the first time since the 2009 Masters, Woods pulled to within one stroke of Charlie’s Wi’s lead through six holes…and then the wheels not only came off, they completely disintegrated.
Woods missed a two-footer for par on the seventh.
His five-footer for par at the eighth didn’t even graze the hole.
And after completely misreading yet another very make-able par putt at the ninth, Woods’ prospects of winning his first full-fielded PGA Tour event in more than two years had all but vanished.
As Mickelson continued to pummel both Woods and the rest of the field on the back-nine, Woods would go on to miss two more putts from inside of three feet (on the 15th and 18th).
Just in case you’re keeping track, that adds up to three missed putts from inside of three feet in a span of just 12 holes.
Heck, Woods used to go months without missing a putt from inside of five feet.
Between 2006 and 2008, Woods made between 97% - 98% of putts from inside of five feet.
On Sunday afternoon he missed five putts from inside of five feet during a single round.
No one likes to bring up the words “yips” or “lost putting stroke.” It’s golf’s equivalent of telling a woman that she looks old or fat.
But Woods is clearly dealing with some form of either mental or physical difficulties on the greens, which tend to become more pronounced as the pressure mounts on Sunday afternoons.
Woods is by no means the first great golfer to be afflicted by putting woes late in his career.
In fact, just about every great golfer in history has been brought down by the same pesky little menace—a lost putting stroke.
Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo and even up to more modern era players like Ernie Els, Reteif Goosen and Vijay Singh were all stopped dead in their tracks the moment they lost their ability to sink putts.
That’s not to say that Woods will or even already has begun heading down that same road, but one couldn’t help but think that Woods looked a heck of a lot like a 36-year-old Tom Watson out there on Pebble Beach’s greens last Sunday.
Woods didn’t hit the ball great during the final round at Pebble Beach, but his ball-striking wasn’t horrendous either. It was at least good enough for a score 69 or 70 as opposed to the monstrous 75 he posted.
And that, in a nut shell, has been the main issue with Woods over the past few years.
He’s lost his ability to use his short-game and putter to turn 75s into 70s and 70s into 65s.
Woods may not be the greatest driver of the ball who ever lived. He may not be the greatest iron player who ever lived, but few would argue that at least between 1997 and 2009 he was the greatest scorer who ever lived, and this was due in large part to his ability to get up-and-down from anywhere and make at least 2-3 putts per round that others simply would not.
Now, fast forward to 2012, and although Sunday afternoon was probably an anomaly in terms of just how bad Woods was on the greens, it’s now been more than two years since Woods has been able to turn those 75s into 70s and those 70s into 65s.
That was the magic of Tiger Woods and the main reason why he won so often.
Take that magic away and Woods has a problem.
Take that magic away on Sunday afternoon and Woods has an even bigger problem.
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