Abu Dhabi: Ailing Tiger Woods is suffering from an affliction far more destructive than the back spasm that led to him withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday, golfing great Gary Player has claimed.
In an exclusive telephone interview with Gulf News, Player said he believes Woods is being plagued by “the cancer of golf, the yips” and thus doubts whether he will add to his 14-major haul.
The yips are involuntary wrist spasms known to interfere with putting, the cause and cure for which are unknown. It was coined by the late Scottish golfer Tommy Armour, who said it was a “brain spasm that impairs the short game”.
“The thing that concerns me about Tiger’s comeback, which nobody is saying much about, is when he was playing a little while ago, he had the yips very badly with the chipping,” said the nine-time major champion Player, ahead of his second annual Gary Player Invitational in the UAE at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi on Monday. “He was hitting a chip shot in front of him or hitting it over the green. I am so used to seeing him having a chip and he puts the ball two feet from the hole.
“To see him chipping the way he does, there’s no way he can win. No way at all.”
Woods has slumped to 666 in the world after only returning to action in December after 15 months out following two back operations.
The 41-year-old cut a dejected figure as he shot a five-over 77 in the first round in Dubai on Thursday. He then didn’t appear for his second round on Friday due to a back issue reported to media by his manager, Mark Steinberg.
Player believes Woods’ decline can be traced back to his relentless tinkering with his game after winning the US Open by an incredible 15 shots in 2000.
The 81-year-old South African says since that career apogee, he has noticed numerous fault’s in the American great’s swing.
“If he’d never have had another lesson after winning the US Open by 15 shots, I firmly believe he would have gone on and broken every conceivable record in the game,” he said. “A man called Henry Longhurst, the greatest TV announcer that ever lived, said something interesting: “When you get the yips, you die with the yips.” Very few people recover from the yips.
“If you look at Ernie Els, he had this beautiful golf swing, but he got the yips. Look at him in the past 40 tournaments. He’s really struggled to make the cut.
“The yips is a destroyer; it’s the cancer of golf. Everybody I know got it. Only Jack Nicklaus and I didn’t and I don’t know why. I can’t explain it.”
He added grimly: “I don’t think he’ll win another major, but I sincerely hope he does. Nothing would give me a greater thrill than Tiger winning another major, but it’s an awfully big task. He has a monumental challenge ahead.”
Player said his Gary Player Invitational “is more important than golf tournaments” given its philanthropic aim.
Held in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club event raises funds for the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care & Special Needs, joining five other global events in a series that together has helped The Player Foundation raise more than $62 million (Dh227.7 million) for charities worldwide.
Among the professional golfers confirmed to join are Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke.
Celebrities and sporting icons also set to join the golf professionals are cricket greats Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting; Springbok rugby legend Victor Matfield; model, racing-car driver and television personality, Jodie Kidd; pop stars of the band BoyzLife, Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden; and Emirati comedian, Ali Al Sayed.
Along with the action, the event will include a gala dinner on February 5 at the five-star Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, as well as a traditional South African braai (barbecue) for tournament participants after the golf competition.
Player will also perform a skills clinic before the competition gets under way, around 11am on Monday.
For more information on the Gary Player Invitational series, visit www.garyplayerinvitational.com and follow @GPInvitational on Twitter and Instagram- #GOLFandGIVING.