If only a psychologist can help him, Woods must give that his best shot

If only a psychologist can help him, Woods must give that his best shot

It's not just where he's finished this year: 80th, 41st, a withdrawal, 25th. It's not just the Sunday stumbles: In 17 events since 2013, he's broken 70 twice on day four. It's not just the misses: This Sunday he hits fans, the rough, bunkers, water, before he hurts his back.

It's how young golfers see Tiger Woods which is so telling.

Jordan Speith, 20, says in January of his first round alongside Woods: "I wasn't intimidated" and then played like he wasn't. Patrick Reed, 23, wears a Tiger-red shirt on Sundays. It's effrontery, it's a salute, it's a mental tactic, it's a hoot. Reed finds his inner Tiger and wins Doral, Woods can't locate this fellow he once knew and has a 78. The mimic is better than the original.

Woods needs a doctor. Make that plural. For swing, for back, for brain. It's OK, champ, everyone needs reassurance. Even the self-assured Roger Federer did something radical in Dubai recently - he turned to his box after winning a set. It's lonely out there, which is why Woods might want to flick through his contact list and start with a call to Jay Brunza - an early caddie, a family friend and also a psychologist.

Reading Woods' mind is guesswork, for no champion has been so relentlessly opaque. No long interviews. No autobiography. Favourite answer: "It is what it is." Only his toughness spoke, in his calm, in his finishes, but now he's a hollowed-out hero whose mind might need repair. He doesn't look a man who trusts his game.

Pressure is an ancient sporting fiend and every athlete's talent is measured by his ability to journey from fear to the other end of the spectrum which is courage. As Jack Dempsey, the boxer, said: "A champion is someone who gets up even when he can't." Yet even as athletes highlighted the "mental game", it was their bodies they polished more than their minds. In sports' macho world there was an in-built resistance to advertising frailty: ah, psychologists, they were only for head cases.

But sport has had to react to its new universe. At one level has arrived recognition of the minuscule margins that determine victory. I need an edge, the athlete thinks, and it might be a new shot or a new mantra from a psychologist. At another level, in a highly-paid profession - where every facial tic and choice of fingernail polish is replayed and commented on - the stress is staggering.

And so the psychologist has gone from affectation to weapon. Phil Mickelson used mental coach Julie Elion and Major winners Keegan Bradley and Darren Clarke worked with the famed Dr Bob Rotella. No university degree is required here. Boris Becker has one from the court, which is why he's in Novak Djokovic's corner.

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