LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Whether or not Tiger Woods is suffering from the chipping 'yips', several mental game experts agree that the former world number one is paying a steep price for becoming too technically focussed on his swing.
Woods stunned the golfing world last week when he missed the cut at the Phoenix Open, posting the worst score of his professional career as he struggled to a mind-boggling 11-over-par 82 in the second round at the TPC Scottsdale.
Playing only his second event in five months after enduring back problems for much of last year, Woods was especially poor with his chipping and hit shots fat or thin while occasionally resorting to a putter or a bump-and-run approach instead.
Some analysts are saying the 14-times major champion, once renowned for his sublime skills around the green, is suffering from the yips, an involuntary movement of the muscles.
Others see his struggles as confidence and mental issues.
"The yips are defined by a kind of flinch at impact and I didn't see a gross expression of that in what I saw of Tiger," Dr. Joe Parent, who helped major winners Vijay Singh and Cristie Kerr reach top spot in the world rankings, told Reuters.
"What I did see was a lack of confidence and what I would describe as overly mechanical thinking. He is having trouble finding the right angle to come in at the ball and therefore he doesn't want to risk those high-lofted clubs."
Woods, who has not won a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open, is still adapting to the fifth swing change of his career, this time with new consultant Chris Como.
"When body and mind are synchronised for a golf swing, they are unified in purpose, presence and focus," said Parent.
"If you're thinking about your swing, you're thinking, not swinging. What Tiger's mind is telling his body to do and what his body is doing are two difference things."
Parent, a PGA Tour instructor who is author of the book "Zen Putting: Mastering the Mental Game on the Greens", felt Woods' biggest problem with his chipping was an inability to picture his desired shot.
"He was a master of the short game," said Parent. "He would make these practice swings with such freedom and you could tell all he was doing was tuning his system into the picture he had in mind. And then he walked up and just produced that picture.
"I'm not even sure he knows what picture he's got in mind now. You lose confidence and you start choosing less risky shots, putting from off the green instead of chipping, opting for a bump-and-run rather than a lofted club off a tight lie.
"If you don't trust the shot, your mind goes to technique. Tiger looks like he is thinking about how he is making a stroke rather than expressing the artistry of somebody who is a master of a stroke."
Dr Michael Lardon, a renowned physician and sports psychiatrist who has worked with Phil Mickelson on the mental aspects of his golf game, felt that Woods' problems stemmed from the meltdown of his private life that began in late 2009.
"He needs to square himself up with that at some levels," Lardon told Reuters, referring to Woods' fall from grace after revelations he had a string of extra-marital affairs led to the break-up of his five-year marriage to Swede Elin Nordegren.
"Lose some of that arrogance that kind of put him there but there is a fine difference between swagger and arrogance because what happened from '09 is that he went from being beloved in the public to the Dark Knight. It's been a real shift."
Lardon, whose book 'Mastering Golf's Mental Game' was published earlier this year, agreed with Parent that Woods' chipping problems were "100 percent mental" though he also believed the ravages of time were taking a toll.
"Tiger has to think about accepting the limitations of age and injuries, 'I'm almost 40, my knee, my back, do I really want to build my game from the ground up again?' There's a lot of variables with Tiger," said Lardon.
Editing by Peter Rutherford