Sport Golf Tiger trouble: Can Woods get back in the swing?
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Tiger trouble: Can Woods get back in the swing?

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Capping the most miserable year of his professional career, Tiger Woods has lost his health, his game and now his coach of four years, Sean Foley.

The former world No.1 sacked Foley on Tuesday, ending a partnership which had come under increasingly hostile attack this year as Woods’ game – most notably his driving – has degenerated almost to the point of despair.

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Woods’ relationship with Foley found the rough. Photo: Getty

The player who was freely tipped six years ago to not just surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles but set a benchmark for the ages, has now got much more important and elementary problems to consider – such as how to find the fairway with his driver. Nicklaus’ record is now as distant and elusive as an Everest peak among far-away clouds.

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Some pundits, such as the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo, say Woods’ ill health – he had back surgery in March – remain the root cause for all his swing problems. Others, such as Nobilo’s co-commentator, Brandel Chamblee, say the injury excuse only masks the real reason for his decline: an increasingly flawed swing which has led to a series of erratic results.

Now, even his staunchest supporters realised the depths of Woods’ malaise.

The pair had a tense on-air spat about Woods’ slump this month – a rare display of discord in the very cosy world of professional golf – illustrating just how the issue has dominated the sport.

“Watching a guy swing that short and that quick and develop the yips – and there is no other word for it, the yips – with his driver, is really sad to see,” Chamblee said. “And he is never, ever going to dominate with this move unless he changes it, because he still has between his ears what made him the best player of all time perhaps.”

Woods returned to the game, after his back surgery, in late June. At a regular PGA Tour event in Maryland, the 38-year-old missed the cut in his comeback appearance. But that was said to be just a warm-up for his tilt at the British Open in July where, after an encouraging opening sub-par round, he finished the tournament way back in 69th place.

But, his supporters argued, everything would be different at Firestone Country Club – the venue for the Bridgestone World Golf Championships event in early August – because Firestone is the course that Woods has made his own.

He boasted eight victories there – more than many pros amass in a career – and, at his peak in 2000, shot an astonishing four-round total of 21-under-par 259, which included one round of 61.

But the happy memories and familiar surrounds did nothing to lift him out of his rut. After finding only one of nine fairways with the driver during his second-round 71, Woods did little better in Saturday’s third round, missing the target with each of his first six drives.

Over the course of those two middle rounds, the player many were happy to label The Best Ever as recently as last year, hit his driver 18 times and found the fairway with just three of those shots – a scarcely believable strike rate. In baseball parlance, he was batting at .167.

Wounded, literally and figuratively, Woods pulled out of the tournament after eight holes in the final round.

Now, even his staunchest supporters realised the depths of Woods’ malaise.

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The last of Woods’ 14 major wins came at the 2008 US Open. Does he have anymore left in him. Photo: Getty

Not only was his distance control off with his irons, he began missing his driver both ways rather than predominantly to the right. Also, in major championships, he had begun a disturbing pattern of getting into contention after two days but then, in a stark reversal of his earlier career, playing indifferently over the weekend.

The debate will continue to rage: was the coach to blame, or has Tiger just lost his lustre?

After re-aggravating his back at the PGA Championship earlier this month, Woods removed himself from consideration for the US Ryder Cup team and said he would not play again until his own tournament in December in order to focus on recovery.

Then, the criticism grew to a crescendo and something had to give. To no-one’s great surprise, what gave was his relationship with Foley.

The Canadian was Woods’ third coach as a professional, following Butch Harmon and Hank Haney. And they did enjoy some success as a partnership, notably in 2013 when Woods won five Tour events on the way to Player of the Year honours.

Harmon, whose relationship with Woods ended messily in late 2002, approached Haney soon after his appointment to wish him well. “Hank, good luck,” Harmon said, according to Haney’s account in ‘The Big Miss’. “It’s a tough team to be on. And it’s harder than it looks.”

And so it has proved.

Yet the debate will continue to rage: was the coach to blame, or has Tiger just lost his lustre? Many will say the latter. And coincidentally, news of Foley’s sacking came just a day after another of his students, Hunter Mahan, won his sixth PGA Tour event at The Barclays.

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