A year later, Tiger Woods may still be in denial

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“This has nothing to with his swing,” Chirban said. “He’s an emotional work in progress and the strategies he’s used before are not going to fix his failings now. You fix it by continuing to work on understanding what led him to the behavior that caused shame and that’s an ongoing process.”

Woods spent weeks in a rehab center in Mississippi following the accident that exposed his life of kinky sex with a string of mistresses, ostensibly to deal with issues of sex addiction. But experts say even intensive therapy can’t solve deep-rooted emotional issues immediately, and it isn’t known whether Woods continues to work with therapists as he continues to work on his game.

“It’s an underlying psychological issue and he’s trying to find ways to cope with it. It’s hard,” said Soroya Bacchus, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who specializes in addiction. “You have somebody who was a sex addict who is trying to stop that behavior and at the same time find ways to learn new behaviors. How do you focus and still try to play?”

Woods faces the added burden of having to do that while on public display, at least for the six hours or so a day he is on the golf course. Fans have for the most part been respectful, though at the U.S. Open last year one yelled at Woods that his private life was the public’s business because Woods himself had made it the public’s business.

But while Woods tries to rationalize things by focusing on his swing as the root of all his problems, there is no doubt his issues run deep in the game he once dominated.

No. 1 in the world for 90 percent of his career, he’s now seventh and fading fast. The Masters starts Thursday and, while he’s still one of the betting favorites, those odds are based on memories from another time.

Fellow competitor Ian Poulter said Monday he doubted Woods would be able to finish in the top five this week, much less win, a comment that Woods didn’t take particularly well.

“Well, Poulter is always right, isn’t he?” Woods said sarcastically.

Still, players who once used to fear him now offer him consoling words as he finishes off another bad round. Fans who once screamed his name and roared at his shots now offer little but sympathetic applause.

He seems confused. He appears lost.

“He fell back to earth and not only do the other players see him as human now, but he sees himself subconsciously as human,” said Gregg Steinberg, a professor of sports psychology at Austin Peay State University who has worked with pro golfers. “Before he almost saw himself as superhuman but he’s had a lot of emotional distress in his life that has changed that. In a way, he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in the way he can’t control his emotions _ and he was a genius in controlling his emotions.”

Just how much that plays into a wayward drive into the trees or a three-putt at a critical moment only Woods knows _ though most experts say he is probably in denial about it. But almost every top player has his own psychologist at tournaments trying to get him to clear his mind and concentrate on the moment, and for Woods that task is magnified by the issues he has faced.

And while there were recent reports _ labeled as unfounded by those close to Woods _ that he had a new girlfriend, having someone new may not be the path Woods wants to go down right now.

“Being a sex addict means you need to be sober from sex,” Bacchus said. “Having a relationship now may not be a good idea.”

What would be a good idea for Woods is winning again, and the Masters is a tournament he feels he can win every time he tees it up. He blew away the field winning here by 12 strokes in 1997 for his first major title, and adding another green jacket this week would not only make a statement that he’s back but give a badly needed boost to one of the greatest players ever.

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