Masters 2011: The Real Reason Tiger Woods Is Slumping

As Tiger Woods competes in this year's Masters Tournament in Augusta, GA—the highest-profile golf event of the season—and makes a run at breaking Jack Nicklaus's 18 major tournament wins, his professional downfall is ever-glaring. The world's highest-paid athlete and formerly first-ranked golfer is currently seeded seventh by the PGA and finished tied in 19th place after the first round at the Masters. He surged up to third place in the second round, but ESPN wondered "whether the two youngsters ahead of him really cared."

Much ado is being made about the fact that Woods has not won a major since 2008—particularly as he continues to brush up against Nicklaus's record—and everything from his torn ACL three years ago to (and especially) distractions following the media circus surrounding his extra-marital affairs and divorce are blamed for the drought. But hookers and TMZ aside, Time has a simpler theory for why Woods's game has been stuck in the sandtrap. He's holding that club too darned tight.

Referencing an April Golf Digest article that chronicles the evolution of Woods's swing by talking to each of his five coaches, Time's Sean Gregory wonders whether a complete swing overhaul mandated by newest coach Sean Foley is doing the golfer more harm than good:

Foley is tightening Woods' grip on the golf club and asking him to keep his arms closer to his body, which should improve his efficiency and keep Woods straighter. But golf swings are a delicate thing. Even for a golf machine like Woods, how many disruptions to muscle memory can one man take before seeds of doubt creep into his brain -- and hurt his game for good?

It's a sentiment echoed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who were interviewed by Golf Digest for the article:

"I just sort of giggle. I think Tiger has a basically sound swing, and he should stick to it. Always changing, it takes away from something that is really good," Palmer said.

"When Tiger started out, there was nothing mechanical about him," Nicklaus agreed. "Now he plays by mechanics, but I've noticed that when he starts making mistakes, he instinctively reverts back to feel. When he really has to win something, the touch and feel that he reverts to produces some unbelievable results. There are no mechanics at all when he's really under the gun. That's how he should play all the time."

As for Woods himself, he admits that he's been slow to adapt to the swing change:

It's just a totally different philosophy from what I was employing before. We've changed a lot, from stance to grip to where the club is throughout the entire golf swing and, obviously, what the body is doing. It's way different from what I used to do, and that's been a difficult change.

Read the full story at Time and The Golf Blog.