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Another void for Tiger: Swing coach resigns

Tiger Woods, right,and his coach Hank Haney look

Tiger Woods, right,and his coach Hank Haney look on during a practice round for the U.S. Open. (June 12, 2006) Credit: AP

Tiger Woods officially said goodbye and thanks to Hank Haney, the swing coach who resigned late Monday, creating one more loose end in a golfer's life filled with disarray.

During a news conference near Philadelphia Monday, in which he appeared as defending champion of the AT & T National tournament, Woods said he had no plans to leave Haney.

But later on Monday, Haney released a statement to Golf Channel in which he said, "In many ways, because of all the time I have spent with Tiger, I may have learned more from him than he has ever learned from me. However, I believe at this time that it is in both of our best interests for me to step aside as Tiger's coach. I will always look back upon our past half dozen years together as my best days in professional golf."

Tuesday, on tigerwoods. com, Woods replied, "Hank is an outstanding teacher and has been a great help to me, but equally importantly he is a friend. That will not change. I would like to thank him for all he has done for me the past six years."

Haney's departure, amid criticism following Woods' recent poor play, leaves Woods without yet another rudder. His marriage is at best unsettled after a sex scandal. Woods still misses his late father's counsel, witnessed by a Nike commercial featuring Earl Woods' voice. He no longer is a constant companion of fellow pro Mark O'Meara, who has remarried, moved to Texas and now plays on the Champions Tour.

What's more, Woods' health is an open question, and an Open question. The neck injury that forced him to withdraw during the final round of the Players Championship Sunday requires an MRI. The results of that could determine whether he will be ready for the U.S. Open June 17-20 at Pebble Beach, site of his 15-stroke victory 10 years ago.

He said Monday that he has been getting treatment, both at tournaments and near his Orlando, Fla., home, and has taken anti-inflammatory medication. "So I'm doing everything I can, but it's not getting better. It's actually going the other way. So we need to figure out what's going on," he said.

Sports medicine specialist Dr. Victor Khabie, co-director of orthopedics and the Spine Institute at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, said neck problems are common for golfers because of the swing's torque. Woods' rationale for the injury that he rushed back from inactivity for the Masters is plausible. "The muscles around the spine protect the nerves. When they get stressed, they go into spasms," he said.

Khabie added that a bulging disc, which has been cited as a possibility in Woods' case, is not a major problem. Many athletes and members of the general population have those. He said that worse trouble occurs when the disc becomes herniated.

"Obviously, I can't speak to his specific case," Khabie said, adding that it usually takes six weeks to come back from a neck injury. On the other hand, athletes often recover quickly. "I don't rule out him coming back for the U.S. Open," the doctor said.

Whether he will have a new swing coach remains to be seen. Woods won six majors with Haney, after having won eight with Butch Harmon. Which coach was better and did he really need either?

"I don't know enough about what Tiger gets out of his coach," said Jack Druga, head pro at Shinnecock Hills, who has played in the U.S. Open and is a friend of Jack Nicklaus and other longtime tour pros. "The stuff he worked on with Butch was very, very different from what he worked on with Hank Haney. With Butch, it was a little bit of a shut clubface and high hands and with Hank it was a wide-open face with the club around behind him.

"Could anybody teach him? I do think Tiger could do just about anything," Druga said. "It's going to be very interesting."

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