REUTERS - The worst round of Tiger Woods' professional career was a mild surprise rather than a complete shock to most golf insiders.
And they were not quite ready to give up on the 14-times major winner.
Woods shot an 11-over-par 82 in the second round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Friday, a score that might be stunning to casual observers of the game, but not necessarily to those who have closely observed him.
“I have been watching Tiger's chipping deteriorate for the past few years,” instructor Steve Bann, who has coached several PGA Tour players, told Reuters.
“His pattern has changed because of the full swing changes he worked on. Now for the first time in his career, I am guessing he is concerned in the back of his mind whether he is going to make solid contact, so he is distracted from the target and the execution of the shot."
Former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch said it was too early to write off Woods.
"Hard to watch the best player ever struggle like he is, but I have no doubt he will put in the extra effort and play his way back into top form," Baker-Finch told Reuters.
Woods has particularly struggled with his chipping since switching instructors from Sean Foley to Chris Como in November.
“Great chippers normally stay great chippers for a long period of time, so I find that the big question mark," said analyst Frank Nobilo, a former world class player, on Golf Channel.
"This is an official Tiger Woods slump."
Some players have come out of slumps and some have not, Nobilo noted.
The only appropriate person to compare Woods against was 18-times major champion Jack Nicklaus, Nobilo said.
“He had a couple of major slumps in his career and got out of it. We’ll have to wait and see whether Tiger can get out of this.”
Jordan Spieth, who played the first two rounds at TPC Scottsdale with Woods, said it was “odd” to see his fellow competitor struggle, but pointed out that it was only Woods's second tournament since August.
“He's really revamping his golf swing and just seems like he needs some more repetitions,” Australian Open champion Spieth said.
“He looks very healthy, looks like nothing was bothering him, so he should be able to get out there and get a lot of practice in.
"I would look for him to make a strong comeback this year."Woods, who had back surgery last March, acknowledged that his chipping was a work in progress, and attributed his poor short game to his new swing under Como.
“My attack angle was much steeper with Sean (Foley) and now I’m very shallow and so that in turn affects the chipping,” he said after posting a 13-over 155 score for 36 holes.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry