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Tiger Woods’ chipping yips make it too risky to play Masters, says Hank Haney

Hank Haney believes Tiger Woods’ short game is not ready for prime time -- or the Masters.

Tiger Woods’ struggles with his short game may be news to many in the golf world but he has shown signs of the chipping yips for years, according to Hank Haney, the former world No. 1’s ex-swing coach.

More important than when Woods began displaying signs of wedge woes, which Haney claimed popped up during the 2008 U.S. Open, is that Tiger risks long-term damage to his self-esteem if he begins chunking and skulling shots all over Augusta National this week at the Masters.

"Confidence is such a big part of the game," Haney wrote in the April issue of Golf Digest. "If he goes to Augusta and chips the way he has, he's only going to produce more mental scar tissue. It's just not worth the risk."

Woods on Friday said he would return to competitive golf at the men’s first major of the season. His announcement ended months of speculation about his short-term future after he went on a self-imposed hiatus from competitive golf in February.

Woods’ injury-unrelated break followed terrible outings at the Hero World Challenge in December, a career-worst 82 and missed cut in Phoenix, and an embarrassing 11-hole effort at Torrey Pines that resulted in his third withdrawal in his last eight tour events. He has also compiled four MCs in nine tournaments he played in the past two seasons.

A back injury that forced a microdiscectomy last March relegated Woods to the sidelines for most of 2014. While he blamed deactivated glutes for quitting midway through his first round at Torrey, Tiger intimate Notah Begay III said his Stanford teammate "embarrassed himself" with what Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee termed Woods’ "catastrophically bad" short game.

Since missing the 2014 Masters -- the first Augusta DNP of his professional career -- Woods has undergone greater scrutiny than ever in his forensically dissected career. Since his miserable outing at the World Challenge, almost everyone with even a passing interest in golf has submitted a theory about what physical and/or mental ailment dogs the aging superstar and how to fix it.

Haney called BS on all those who blame yet another swing change, the need for more of Woods’ patented reps after the long layoff to rehab his back, and claim it’s an easy matter for the player to regain the touch that he used to win his fourth, and perhaps last, green jacket.

"Let’s be serious. Tiger Woods has the yips," said Haney, who went all science-y with an explanation about "neurological ‘fault’" and secondary anxiety element, and the "scrambled" message muscles receive from the brain. "It isn’t because the fixes in his long game are leaking into his chipping. It isn’t a mechanical flaw. It isn’t pressure."

There is no simple elixir for Eldrick, especially since, according to Haney, Woods -- like most tour players faced with similar issues -- refused to deal with the problem after it materialized during the last major he won, the ’08 U.S. Open. Haney claimed Woods chunked shots about nine times in 2009 and again in his first match of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Woods, who Haney called "one of the best short-game players of all time," has morphed into someone who knows what he wants to accomplish but often just can’t do it. The stats proved his point, as Haney noted that Tiger was fourth on tour in scrambling in 2012, 46th in 2013, and then off the charts in 2014 had he played enough to be ranked.

"If you've had the yips -- and I have, for more than 20 years -- you know what you're seeing when you watch Tiger hit those short shots," observed Haney, who has had quite a bit to say about his famous pupil since their less-than-amicable split in 2010. "It's a mixture of hurry-and-get-this-shot-over-with panic and disbelief."

It’s that panic, should Woods start flubbing wedge shots around the tight green complexes at Augusta, that could ruin him for the long haul.

Tiger will take the field in his quest for that increasingly elusive 15th major after playing just 47 terrible holes in competition, and Haney believes that endless hours of pressure-free rehearsal cannot prepare even one of the all-time greats for the pressure cooker at the home of the Masters.

Once the curtain rises on the biggest stage in golf, everything changes for the biggest star in the game. "You're Tiger Woods. You're the most famous athlete on the planet, and you're coming off a week when you really struggled with those chips," Haney said about Tiger’s abbreviated Torrey Pines stint.

"So now everybody is watching to see what will happen the first time you have one of those little shots. The gallery is holding its breath. The photographers are all ready to take a picture from inside the ropes, right next to you. The television commentators are ready to give their armchair analyses," said Haney. "If you're Tiger, honestly, how could you not be thinking about it at that point?"

It’s that "total collapse of a skill" Woods used to master -- and one the swing guru contended has never affected any other top tour golfer (at the end of their careers, Seve Ballesteros had the driving yips and Johnny Miller couldn’t putt) -- that troubled Haney. Woods could make changes in his backswing or use different clubs for different shots and the yips "might go into remission," but they’re now a permanent part of Tiger’s repertoire.

"It’s just a matter of time before they come out again," said Haney, who asserted he hoped Woods played well but didn’t like the odds.

"There's no reason for Tiger to play more events until his back is healthy and he has a manageable plan to play around this short-game issue," Haney concluded.

No one -- not swing consultant Chris Como, Tiger whisperer Begay, perhaps even the golfer himself -- knows what to expect if/when Woods stubs a wedge shot in his latest comeback. The 24/7 Tiger cam will tell us soon enough whether golf fans will ever see unparalleled play like this again ...

... or if it’s back to the drawing board one more time for Tiger Woods.