Out of Bounds: Could Tiger Woods come down with 'the yips?'

Golf is not my sport, and because of that fact, I'll never be that guy on the couch watching golf in my underwear.

I see no point in a sport that requires you to buy thousands of dollars in expensive equipment, makes you walk miles every time you play and has been known to cause more than one heart attack.

Once a working man's game way back during its early days in the highlands of Scotland, golf has turned into yet another country club pursuit. It's right up there with squash and bridge in my book of awesome sports. The only more inane, pointless pursuit in the world is driving 200 mph, making only left-hand turns.

Yet I plan on watching every minute of the Masters Tournament next weekend because of the return of Tiger Woods. Not to see if he'll win, not to see if he'll be heckled on the world's most private golf course, but to see after months of scrutiny and tabloid-level media coverage whether we've ruined the world's greatest golfer. In a sick, twisted way, I'm wondering if Woods will come down with a serious case of "the yips."

For those of you who don't know, the yips are a death sentence in an athletic career. Quite simply, it's the sudden inability to perform the simplest athletic tasks. Receiving a hand-off, throwing from first to third or even serving a tennis ball have all been destroyed by a case of the yips.

Symptoms of the yips can come and go, but certainly increase in high-pressure situations. Also known as Steve Blass Disease, there are a number of famous athletes who have suffered from the yips. Some have recovered while others have never been able to play again. Blass was an excellent pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who suddenly was unable to throw strikes. Until that point, he'd built quite a resume, acquiring 18- and 19-win seasons, making the All-Star team in 1972 and helping the Pirates win the 1971 World Series.

Then, in 1973, the wheels came off. He tripled his earned run average, walking 84 batters in 88 innings and striking out only 27. In short, he just couldn't pitch. He was sent to the minors in 1974 and, after a failed attempt to make a return, retired before the 1975 season.

Yips are infamous in golf. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that 33 to 48 percent of all serious golfers have experienced the yips. In fact, arguably the first athlete to suffer from the yips was golfer Ben Hogan. Hogan was the Tiger Woods of his day, renowned for his blasts from the tee. He was a notoriously shaky putter and after his miraculous 1953 season during which he won five PGA Tour events, including all three major championships, he never won another major tournament.

When is the last time that the top athlete in a sport underwent such intense media scrutiny, had his life literally crumble around him and then successfully came back without so much as a single hiccup? From what I've seen, those are exactly the expectations for Woods. He's the favorite to win the Masters, yet he hasn't played competitive golf in over four months.

So if he doesn't come out and crush the field with his typical ruthlessness, what will that do to him and his psyche? He knows what people are saying about him and, if anything, his own expectations are probably higher. This is his chance to strike back at the media that exposed him for the imperfect person that he is, to show them that despite their best efforts he is still that indomitable athlete we've watched for the past decade.

I can't decide if I want Woods to win. Yes, it would be a great story and probably cement his legacy as the world's greatest golfer ever. Yet, there were cracks in the armor before it was shattered by that pesky fire hydrant back in November.

At the 2009 Open Championship, he missed the cut for only the second time in a major championship since turning professional. Then, during the 2009 PGA Tour Championship he had a two-stroke lead over South Korean Yang Yong-eun going into the final four holes and eventually lost.

It was the first time Woods would finish the year without a major championship since 2004. It also marked the first time that Woods would fail to win a major when leading or co-leading after 54 holes and the first time he had lost any tournament on American soil when leading by more than one shot.

In short, instead of a comeback, we could be watching the beginning of the end.