The Local Knowlege

mental game

If Tiger Woods really has the yips, he might want to give this guy a call

A chorus of golfers and analysts led by Rocco Mediate and Paul Azinger claim they could fix Tiger Woods' golf game in a few minutes. That's probably a stretch, but Dr. Richard Crowley thinks a couple hours should do the trick -- and he can do it over the phone.

Crowley is the author of Mentalball: How to beat your invisible opponent at its own game and the San Francisco-based psychologist has worked with thousands of athletes. His specialty? Curing the yips. 

Related: What happened to Tiger Woods' short game?

Most notably, Crowley helped Major League Baseball players like Steve Sax, Shawn Green and Mark Wohlers get over the problems that plagued them during their careers. For Sax, it was being able to make a routine throw to first base. For Green, it was breaking out of an awful hitting slump. For Wohlers, it was finding the strike zone again after it appeared he was destined to follow the path of Steve Blass -- for whom the term "Steve Blass Disease" was coined -- and have a premature exit from the game.

Those fixes had nothing to do with mechanics, which aren't the issue for someone suffering the yips. Crowley doesn't need to know anything about a particular sport to help an athlete, which is why his patients include everyone from baseball players to golfers to skateboarders. For the record, though, Crowley has never worked with a golfer as prominent as Woods -- or any tour player for that matter. But as he says, their level or sport is irrelevant.


"I never give any athlete advice," said Crowley, who posts many of his athlete's testimonials on his website, "All the advice aggravates the situation. Giving him advice is poison."

And no athlete gets more advice than Woods, who Crowley believes has never returned to his former greatness due to trauma he suffered during his 2009 scandal. But why are these pronounced short game problems just surfacing for the 14-time major winner?

David Owen wrote in a New Yorker story on the yips from last May, "No one understands for certain what causes any form of the yips, and no one yet has identified physical loci in the brain for focal dystonias." Crowley, though, is convinced the problem starts in the brain's right hemisphere.

"There's an extra thought in [the athlete's] head," Crowley said of Woods. "Every kid will call it 'weird.' 'The ball felt weird coming out of my hand.' That feeling comes from the unconscious and it comes from the middle of nowhere to a player. In a millisecond, they're disconnected."

That extra thought, Crowley says, can't be gotten rid of with a simple adjustment and can be triggered by a variety of things. But he believes finding the trigger isn't important and it isn't part of his solution. Instead, he treats athletes for these "invisible opponents" or "psychic viruses" by having them go through a series of mental exercises that shows them how to use their imaginations to fix themselves. This allows them to reconnect to the mindset that existed before the person encountered their problem. It sounds complicated, but Crowley claims to have a 95-percent success rate with athletes who spend five phone sessions with him.

Crowley acknowledged that the less an athlete has accomplished, the easier it is for them to believe it's not their fault and to buy into his method. He also says ego plays a large role since it's difficult to convince athletes they need a different kind of help.

"Most people will deny me and turn to a repeating pattern in which seeking instruction gives them false hope," Crowley said. "They think, 'I'll figure this thing out myself. I always have."

Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was one of those people. Despite Crowley's previous work with Sax, another troubled second baseman, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman reaching out to Crowley, Knoblauch never returned any of Crowley's messages. He also never fixed his problems on what is essentially the chip-shot throw of baseball. Knoblauch was eventually moved to the outfield -- where he could make the longer throw fine -- before being out of baseball at 32. 

The Grind: Tiger's short game woes and Freddie Jacobson meets Rihanna

The yips can be fixed, but any doctor would agree that first, they need to be acknowledged. That's something we haven't seen yet from Woods, who instead has blamed his short game woes on everything from a new "release pattern" under instructor Chris Como to rust to a new grind on his wedges.

Woods has been open to trying new things with his golf swing, but would he be open to doing drills that don't take place on a practice range? If so, Dr. Crowley is just a call away.

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Gear & Equipment

Never mind Tiger's new instructor. Here's what you need to know about the new equipment he'll be playing at Isleworth

It has been well chronicled that when Tiger Woods tees off Thursday at the Hero World Challenge, it will be his first competitive round with new swing instructor/consultant Chris Como. Less well known is that it will also be his first competitive round with most of the equipment he's expecting to have in his bag. 

Nothing is official until he steps on the first tee, but it's highly likely Woods will be using new woods, irons and a new golf ball from when he last played at the PGA Championship in August. The only clubs he isn't expected to change are his wedges and putter.

Below are some of the details on his new equipment, which Tiger offered substantial input with during the R&D process. "That to me is fun, testing product," Woods said during a Nike press event in August. "Especially when I'm playing well. I think that is the best time to test. ... You always want to test when you are playing great, because obviously you can see the differences." 

Clearly he's feeling confident about all of the new gear because there are a lot of changes to his bag. Company officials are touring this as "the first time in Nike history that he has put this much new equipment in play in one week." 

Ball: RZN Black.
This is a big change for Tiger. For the last five years, he's been playing a version of the One Tour D that had been specifically made for him. The core of the RZN is waffle-shaped and made out of a resin polymer that interlocks with the mantle layer. The One Tour D has a synthetic rubber core. Resin is lighter than rubber, which means Tiger is playing a ball that is structurally quite different than what he's been playing for half a decade. 

Driver: Vapor Speed prototype, Mitsubishi Diamana Blue Board 93x shaft.
The drive has a 420 cubic-centimeter clubhead and has 10.5 degrees of loft, a big change from the 9.5-degree driver he was playing most recently. And there were times in the last couple years that he's played an 8.5-degree model. His driver is also glued in, which is different from the adjustable version that will be sold at retail. 

tiger's vapor driver.jpg
(Photos of Tiger's driver: Nike)

Fairway Woods: Vapor Speed 3- and 5-wood
The biggest innovation in these clubs is stability. Two thin pieces of stainless steel run through the cavity -- called Fly Beams -- to add support and stiffness to the back cavity, something Tiger specifically looks for in his clubs. The compression channel in the fairway woods is similar to the one used in the VR series, but it's varied in width and depth.  

Irons: Vapor Pro
One of the biggest alterations made in the development of these irons from the previous ones Tiger had used was moving some of the weight toward the toe. This shift in the center of gravity came from studying the wear pattern on Tiger's clubs. The ball was hitting the middle of the clubface -- which sounds ideal -- but the majority of the clubhead's weight was in the heel. Nike R&D officials wanted to get more of the mass behind the ball (for Tiger and those of his ability level, that would be the center of the face). In early trials, they drilled holes in the toe of Tiger's blades and filled them with tungsten, a heavier metal. 

"We had this idea, if we moved the CG towards the center of the face that it would have more impact and more mass right behind the ball," Tiger explained on Nike's website. "And it worked. I was able to hit the ball a little bit further, it came off more solid, and the amazing thing is the ball flew better."

Nike moved on from the tungsten plugs, and calls its final iteration "Modern Muscle technology." The new geometry produces the same result as the plugs, without using tungsten.

The change in his clubs, coupled with the changes in Woods' swing, seems to be a part of a new Tiger -- or at least a different Tiger -- one that age and injury has forced him to become. 

"We all have to make adaptations as athletes, and we have to make adjustments," Woods said Tuesday. "And I'm no different. As I've explained to you guys many times, [it's] like when M.J. [Michael Jordan] created a fadeaway. He couldn't jump over everybody anymore, and he created a new way to score and get points. I'm the same way. I can't blow it out there with some of the longer guys anymore. ... But there's other ways to go around a golf course."

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News & Tours

Tiger Woods isn't 100 percent yet, but says he's getting closer

By Ryan Herrington


HOYLAKE, England -- It's become almost cliche to hear Tiger Woods say how anything less than winning the title at a major championship would be a disappointment. Yet upon listening to him respond Tuesday during his British Open press conference, Woods' predictable answer carried a little more purpose.

"First," he said, when asked what an acceptable finish would be this week at Royal Liverpool. "That's always the case."

It would seem, then, Woods is back to competitive form mentally as he prepares to play his first major championship in nearly 11 months.

The trickier question is how close is he physically.

Woods hinted he's still not quite 100 percent following his March 31 back surgery, but that he's making progress. "Each and every week I've gotten stronger and faster," Woods said. "I'm probably not quite at the level I think can be at as far as my explosion through the golf ball, but I'm coming pretty darn close."

In his lone start since the surgery, last month's Quicken Loans National, Woods shot 74 and 75 and missed the cut. The result left many concluding that Woods' actions aren't ready to back up his words regarding his personal expectations for Hoylake.

Woods, however, insists he only took good things away from playing at Congressional. "The fact I was able to go at it that hard and hit it like that with no pain was big," Woods said. "I could play out of the rough. I could hit shots. … And I was able to recover each and every day."

Since then, Woods says he's had no setback.

As he continued to work his way back into game shape, Woods acknowledged that adjusting his game to playing links golf has been an additional challenge. It's why he arrived a day earlier than he ordinarily does for the Open. Getting in practice rounds on Saturday and Sunday at Royal Liverpool allowed him the luxury of merely practicing Monday before making a third trip around the course Tuesday.

Discounting the historic import of Woods continuing his quest to match Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championship, Woods has some short-term hurdles he needs to clear that would be helped greatly with a high finish this week. Woods is 212th on the FedEx Cup points list with just six weeks left to try to get into the top 125 and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

And then there's qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Woods is currently 72nd on that points list, sitting humbly between Jim Renner and Bryce Molder.

Both goals are on his mind, but neither he says provide him any more incentive to do well this week.

Woods is playing a major. That's all the motivation he needs.

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News & Tours

He might not be at full strength, but Tiger Woods says he's ready to play again

By Jim Moriarty

loop-tiger-woods-return-518.jpgBETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods staged a successful return to competitive interviewing two days before teeing it up in his own Quicken Loans National at Congressional C.C., his first tournament since struggling to finish the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.

Restarting what had been a painful 2014 season after having microdiscectomy surgery to relieve nerve impingement in his lower back, Woods candidly admitted both that he probably wouldn't be playing this week if the tournament didn't benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation and that the risk of further injury to his back was slight. He also said he intends to play in the British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006.

Woods gave an extensive description of his rehab following the surgery. "You can hop right out of the recovery room and, literally, you're OK to putt," Woods said. He wasn't OK to pick the balls out of the cups, however. So, he filled the holes on the practice green at his Florida home with sand. "I knew if the putt went in or not, but I never had to bend over and get balls out of the hole."

That lasted about two months. "Then it was chipping and pitching," Woods continued. "And then we added, basically, about 10 yards every day to two days depending on how I felt. That's how it went to the point where I was out there hitting drivers a couple weeks ago and then started playing golf."

Related: 9 obvious (and not-so obvious) ways Tiger can salvage his 2014 season

His rounds sometimes included riding on the back of a golf cart, an idea he got from Fred Couples, who has suffered back problems nearly his entire career. "I think anyone who has had this procedure knows that probably the worst thing you can do is sit," Woods said. "I was able to get in more holes because of that."

Asked how he played, Woods replied, "I broke 50 for nine, first time, just like I was when I was 3. So, I'm sneaking up on it. My prime's coming up."

Though he said he's hitting his clubs to his usual yardages, Woods acknowledges he's not at full strength but also added that he didn't feel at risk for further injury. "Obviously, I'm going to get stronger as time goes on. But, the risk is minimal, just like it is with every round we play. [Any player] can hit behind a tree root and damage something. Awkward lies. I'm no different in that regard. I shouldn't have any issue because I'm going to hit every fairway and every green and I won't have a single problem," he joked.

Photo: Getty Images

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News & Tours

Tiger Woods gives us another update on his progress. Sort of.

By Alex Myers

Last Monday, Tiger Woods posted a lengthy blog post updating everyone on his status as he tries to recover from back surgery. We learned a lot of tidbits -- like that he's bummed he can't play soccer with his kids -- but didn't get any details on when he'll return to competition.

Related: Why Tiger Woods could miss all four majors in 2014

But on Thursday, the World No. 1 (at least, for a few more days) gave us another update on his progress. And? Sorry, false alarm. It was just on the condition of a golf course, not his back.

"Thrilled with how things are turning out at El Cardonal @DiamanteCabo," Woods wrote in a caption accompanying this photo he posted on Instagram:


El Cardonal, located in Mexico, is nearing completion and will be Woods' first golf course design to open. Woods recently announced he's taken on another project in Houston, which plans to open in the fall of 2015.

Related: Tiger Woods' rocky start as a golf course designer

As to when Woods plans to play again, we still have no idea. Perhaps, he doesn't, either.

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News & Tours

Tiger Woods is bummed he can't play soccer with his kids, and 13 other things he revealed about his rehab process

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Tiger Woods described to the world how his rehab is progressing in a long blog post published on his website on Monday. It's worth reading, but if you're too busy to digest all of it, here are the most interesting bits:

He really doesn't know when he's going to return

"As for my return to golf, I really don't know. I'm doing everything I can and listening to my doctors and working on a strength program, and then we just have to see how my back is. Some people heal up in three months, some people take four months, some people take longer. I just don't know."

But he has hope because of his past work in the gym

"We knew going into this procedure that it really helps to be strong, especially in my glutes and my abs. I was strong in both departments, and that helps with the recovery and rehab, and you're able to come back faster."

He's not sure if he'll have to change his swing to prevent aggravating the injury

"I'm not sure if I will have to make any changes to protect my back; that's up to Sean Foley and me on what we do...We have to make sure my back heals fine and I have the strength and mobility going forward."

He hasn't made any full swings yet, but he's been chipping and putting

"I haven't used a sand wedge yet. I've just done putting and chip-and-runs using the same length of motion. I haven't really rotated yet. As far as taking a full swing, I have conference calls with my doctors every couple of weeks to see how my progress is and just kind of chart it out from there."

He still wants to play in the Ryder Cup

"You can understand why I want to hurry up and get better. I'd also like to play in the FedExCup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup. But obviously, I'm going to have to play really well to earn points to get into the playoffs and play my way onto to the team or have to rely on a captain's pick."

He's been rehabbing with Lindsey Vonn

"It does help to rehab with Lindsey [Vonn], but her programs are much further along than mine. That does help when you're not the only one suffering. It's a good and bad thing that we're both rehabbing at the same time. Her sessions are much longer and more developed. Her knee is getting stronger and it's good to see. She hopes to be ready to compete again in December."

He only watched the 2014 Masters because Freddie Couples got in contention

"Missing my first Masters was tough. I actually watched quite a bit of it because Freddie [Couples] was in contention. As soon as his name went up on the leaderboard, I started watching what he was doing. Once he got off to that bad start Sunday, it wasn't as much fun."

But he wasn't totally heartbroken about missing the tournament

"Not being able to play in the Masters for the first time wasn't as hard for me as you might think. I've missed major championships before, so this was not a new experience. It helps when I'm physically unable to play the game."

He's become a soccer coach

"I've been with my kids a ton. It's been great going to their soccer and T-ball games, practices and just being with them...but unfortunately, I can't play soccer with Sam right now. Prior to the surgery, I was able to play and do some training stuff with her, but I can't do it because I can't cut."

He went to the Bahamas for spring break, and it was fantastic

"We went to the Bahamas for spring break, which was fantastic."

Poker night for Tiger Jam sold out, which is also fantastic

"Poker Night is sold out, so that is fantastic."

He talked to Tony Romo about the surgery

"Tony Romo had the exact same procedure as I did. I talked to him a lot about it because he was in a lot of pain after a game against the Washington Redskins. He just couldn't function anymore."

He still won't let Charlie beat him in putting contests

"He's getting pretty good and is starting to understand speed and break. That's not something that is easy to pick up. I have my greens running about 13 on the Stimpmeter every day... When we were in the Bahamas, the greens were much slower and he almost beat me. If Sam and Charlie beat me, they're going to earn it. That's how Pop was with me, and I think that's how it should be."

He thinks OneRepublic is really hot right now

"They have a lot of hits and are very hot right now."

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An unauthorized history of Tiger Woods' jeans

By Alex Myers

The 16th annual Tiger Jam will be in Las Vegas next month and what's the best part? There's a good chance we'll get to see Tiger Woods wearing jeans. OK, so maybe that's not the best part. You see, Woods has a shaky history with denim. Let's take a trip through time and further explore this recurring trouble spot.

Related: A collection of our favorite 'Tigerisms'

We'll start in 1994 with Woods in high school:


Not a good start, but again, he's still in high school and not a mega-millionaire superstar yet. But here he is throwing out the first pitch before a Texas Rangers game a month after he won the 1997 Masters:


Throwing form aside (why is he clenching his left fist?), these are classic "mom jeans." They also look like the same ones he was wearing three years ago. Note: This will be a recurring theme. As quick as Woods has been to change his swing, he's resisted change when it comes to style (Can you say red shirt and black pants on Sunday?). Then again, what should we expect from someone who looked to Michael Jordan for guidance when he turned pro?


Good lord, those are hideous. . . But back to Tiger. We jump ahead more than a decade to find him at an Indianapolis Colts game in September 2009:


Ahhh, much better, Tiger! Those look like they fit well and that they cost more than $10. But alas, Woods' denim makeover was short-lived. Here he is at a Stanford football game shortly thereafter:


Make that two Stanford football games, one in November 2009 (left: actually, those jeans aren't bad) and one in November 2011 (right: those jeans are bad). Again, very predictable. Again, those jeans on the right look familiar. Again, mom jeans.

Related: 7 things we love about this Tiger Woods interview from high school

The year after, Woods was back watching his beloved Cardinal and not wearing his beloved faded blues. Not that this look was that much better. . . off-course white belt alert!


At least, he has the stern sideline look down, but those jeans are almost Jordan-esque in their bagginess. C'mon, Tiger, pull yourself together! You can do better than this! Which leads us to the Tiger Jams of 2011 and 2012, a pivotal period in Woods' style history.


Oddly, Woods' jeans looked great during this time, but everything else? Well. . .


Again, nice effort with the jeans, but those sneakers. . . and that SHIRT! If you stare at it long enough, does a 3-D image appear?

Still, some encouraging momentum seemed to be building in Woods' denim selection. Surely, he'd put it all together when he showed up at a Denver Broncos game this past NFL season:



So there you have it. After two decades, Woods is right back where he started when it comes to his jean selection. In fact, after concluding our in-depth investigation into the matter, we think it's possible he's been rocking the same pair off and on this entire time. Tiger, get better soon, and while you're at it, maybe get to a store.

UPDATE: Woods' denim woes have continued. Here he is surveying Bluejack National, a private course he's designing. Note the accompanying white belt again:

Tiger at Bluejack-new.jpg

And here he is at an Oakland Raiders game on Oct. 12, 2014. Is it possible his jeans are getting worse?


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News & Tours

If Tiger Woods was playing the Masters this week, he'd probably say something like this

By Sam Weinman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It is a peculiar dynamic having a Masters without Tiger Woods. The absence of the world No. 1 -- the first time he's missed the season's first major since 1994 -- brings a palpable void: no ridiculously early morning range sessions; no stories of emboldened amateurs wrangling their way into a practice round with him; no breathless predictions about his chances of capturing a fifth Masters title.

And not to be forgotten: no pre-tournament Tiger Woods press conference.


With the notable exception of 2010, when Woods' much-anticipated return from a sex scandal inspired a rare Monday news conference, Tuesdays have been Woods' day to meet the  media, reflect on his early season form and address the state of golf in general. There is no script for these events, and every year brings with it unique circumstances. But if you pay close enough attention, you'll start to notice a pattern. For instance, if Tiger were here Tuesday, we could probably expect him to say . . .

Something about the golf course. Woods may be a global superstar, but at his core, he is a golf geek. He loves to talk about hole locations, green speeds and overall conditioning. On Tuesday before the 2013, he said, "The golf course is in fantastic shape." The year before: "The greens are absolutely perfect." 

At Augusta National this Tuesday, Woods would surely be asked about the removal of the Eisenhower Tree, a victim of storm damage, along the 17th fairway. Seeing how Woods injured his knee under that same tree in 2011 -- and subsequently missed the next two majors -- we suspect he wouldn't be too broken up over it.

Something about the state of his game. The most predictable line of questioning with Woods is about his own play, and with the exception of when he was coming in cold in 2010, he has been unwavering in his faith in himself (and even then, he said, "Nothing's changed. I'm going out there to try to win this thing.") Given his meager results so far in 2014, it's hard to imagine Woods portraying the same swagger. Then again, if self-doubt truly was an issue, he likely wouldn't admit to it publicly.

Something about how you need to putt well at Augusta. Just as Woods loves to talk about the strategic intricacies of golf courses, he's always been quick to say it really comes down to putting. "The guys that have won here have really putted well," he said in 2012. In 2008: "You can't putt poorly here and win." Given the alternative -- Woods reverses himself and says putting doesn't matter -- it's fair to say he'd recite some variation of the above.

Something about his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus. With increased frequency in recent years -- especially in the nearly six years since he won his last major -- Woods has been asked about his pursuit of Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. "It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old," he said in 2012. "So there's plenty of opportunities for me." Even with very little to show for his 2014 season, it's hard to imagine Woods straying too far from this sentiment, especially since Nicklaus himself still says he thinks Woods is going to pass him.

Something about him getting old. There is always that moment at the start of a Woods Masters press conference when his number of tournament appearances is cited. Woods rolls his eyes. The assembled media chuckles. It used to be mostly for effect -- 10 Masters is nothing! -- but as the years have progressed, it's taken on poignancy. This year would have been Woods' 20th Masters, which he reflected on last year. "I never would have foreseen that, when I first came here at 19 years old," he said. "It was a bit overwhelming to play here and to be part of the Masters, to stay in the Crow's Nest and accidentally run into the champion's locker room and all those different things. Got to watch Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson tee off on that first hole, Sam Snead. It was just incredible."

Had Woods been at Augusta National on Tuesday, the passage of time would have certainly been a topic of conversation. The fact that he isn't here speaks to it even more.

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PGA Tour

Why Tiger Woods could miss all four majors in 2014

By Alex Myers

On Tuesday, Tiger Woods' announcement that he had undergone successful back surgery and would miss the Masters for the first time as a pro led to two main questions: What is a microdiscectomy and how long will Woods be out of action?

Related: Can we handle a Tiger-less Masters?

We asked Dr. Andrew Hecht, the Chief of Spine Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, to answer both.

"A microdiscectomy is a treatment for someone with a disc herniation," Hecht said. "If you think of a disc like a jelly donut, the outer cover tears and the jelly comes out. That jelly starts to irritate a nerve."


Woods said in a statement he had surgery in Utah on Monday for a pinched nerve that had been bothering him for several months. The No. 1 player in the world and four-time Masters winner had to withdraw during the final round of the Honda Classic early last month before skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Such an injury, according to Hecht, is often the cause of pain in the leg and buttock, as well as in the lower back. It can get better with rest, but many athletes opt to have this procedure because of its high success rate. Hecht said approximately 90 percent of elite athletes return to their former level of competition.

Of course, that will take time. Hecht said there is a gradual phase of rehabilitation followed by a more intense phase and finally the return of an athlete to activities for his/her specific sport.

"The golf swing is a very powerful, twisting motion," Hecht said. "Just because you're not getting tackled, doesn't mean you can't hurt your back."

Hecht said on average the rehab process takes three to four months. Woods could recover more quickly, but a three-month layoff wouldn't have Woods returning until the end of June, meaning he'd miss the U.S. Open in addition to the Masters. A four-month recovery would mean he'd miss the British Open as well, and anything more could result in him missing all four major championships.

In other words, Woods picked the worst time to miss a three-to-four month chunk of the season.

No two injuries are the same, of course, but Graham DeLaet is a recent example of a golfer to undergo the same surgery as Woods. He spoke about his microdiscectomy at the 2012 Sony Open:

"I had a herniated disk over to the right, so they go in and shave off a piece of that to alleviate the pinch on the nerve," DeLaet said. "I had terrible pain in my right leg. Yeah, it was not fun. I'm glad it's all over and I'm feeling great now."

Related: A look back at Tiger Woods' injury history

DeLaet made a full recovery and was one of 2013's breakout stars when he was the best player for the International squad at the Presidents Cup. That's the good news for the 38-year-old Woods. The bad news? DeLaet had the surgery when he was 10 years younger than Woods and it essentially wiped out his entire 2011 season. 

Odds are, Woods won't miss as much time as DeLaet. But due to the timing of the procedure, he could wipe out his entire major championship season. For a man so focused on golf's four biggest events, that might hurt just as much.

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News & Tours

'Is it time to look beyond Tiger and Phil?'

By John Strege

SAN ANTONIO -- Google "Phil Mickelson" and "tinkering" and more than 69,000 results turn up. Mickelson tinkers with his swing, his putting stroke, his equipment, attempting to find the square peg that fits a round hole.

This time, at the Valero Texas Open, he was tinkering with a driver swing to take to the Masters, working on a custom fit for Augusta National's generous fairway widths. He was swinging hard and hitting it high and hurt himself doing so.

Mickelson pulled an oblique muscle hitting driver on the first tee (his 10th hole) on Saturday and withdrew from the tournament. His status for the Shell Houston Open this week and even the Masters the following week is not yet known.

Couple Mickelson's injury with Tiger Woods' bulging disc and his own uncertainty about Augusta, and a question posed by Dottie Pepper recently gives one pause.


"We've been pretty spoiled with easy story lines and high expectations for a very long time. Is it time to look beyond @TigerWoods and Phil?" she wrote on Twitter.

It's not time yet -- Woods won five tournaments last year, Mickelson three, including the British Open. But sooner clearly is gaining on later, and when the day comes, the hangover golf might experience could be colossal.

Woods and Mickelson have anchored golf's marquee for nearly two decades. A television promo for the Valero Texas Open began this way: "Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy. Every week champions will rise. Every week history will be made."

The first two names have 19 major championships and 121 PGA Tour victories between them. The second duo have three majors and 16 PGA Tour wins between them. McIlroy is equipped to help fill the eventual void, but it remains an open question as to whether he will.

Related: More from John Strege 

Woods' dominion over the game has resulted in tournaments being categorized: Tiger tournaments, those in which he played, and the others, those in which he did not play. The buzz in the former is palpable, but its falloff in the latter is usually dramatic.

Mickelson in the Tiger era, meanwhile, has always been an entertaining second fiddle, one capable of playing lead violin from time to time, and he might have been on the cusp of doing so again at Augusta.

The Texas Open was the first of what was to be a three-week run of tournament golf, culminating with the Masters. Each of the three times Mickelson won at Augusta, it was his third straight tournament. Ditto the British Open he won last year and the Players Championship he won in 2007. On the 10 occasions that he played the two weeks prior to the Masters, he finished out of the top 10 only once.

Friday, Mickelson was borderline euphoric about the state of his game and health. "I actually really like the way I'm driving the ball," he said. "My speed is back, my back feels great, my body feels great and I'm able to hit the ball hard again."

A day later, he joined Woods on the disabled list. They'll still dominate story lines in the run-up to the Masters, but by Thursday's start, we might already be looking beyond Tiger and Phil, for one week, at least.

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