Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked golfer and the easy choice as the favorite almost every time he sets foot on the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club, said Tuesday he would not be able to compete in next week’s Masters because of his ailing back.
Woods announced on his website that he had undergone surgery to relieve a pinched nerve that had been bothering him for months.
“After attempting to get ready for the Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done,” Woods said on his website. “I’d like to express my disappointment to the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I will not be at the Masters. “It’s a week that’s very special to me. It also looks like I’ll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.”
Woods, a four-time Masters champion, hasn’t missed the season’s first major championship since he appeared as an amateur in 1995. But at 38, and with his career-long pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major championships having stalled for six years, he is increasingly unable to ward off health problems.
Woods said the procedure was a “successful microdiscectomy,” a procedure typically performed to relieve a herniated disc. The surgery was performed Monday in Park City, Utah, by Dr. Charles Rich, a neurosurgeon.
Woods’s statement indicated recovery will take several weeks. Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, said in an email it was “too early to discuss a specific date for return,” but that the goal is to return “sometime this summer.” That would put in doubt his appearance in the U.S. Open in June at Pinehurst — where he has contended before — not to mention his return to Washington for the Quicken Loans National, the tournament he hosts June 26-29 at Congressional Country Club.
Woods’s statement acknowledged what the golf world was thinking now that he is missing his fifth major in his last seven seasons — that his chances of passing Nicklaus and Sam Snead, who holds the record for most PGA Tour victories, is growing slimmer. Woods owns 14 majors, the last the 2008 U.S. Open. He is far closer to Snead, who won 82 times on the PGA Tour; Woods has 79 victories.
“It’s tough right now, but I’m absolutely optimistic about the future,” Woods said. “There are a couple [of] records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I’ve said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.”
His recent years, though, have been marred by injury. His victory at the 2008 U.S. Open — over 91 enthralling holes, when he eventually beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff — came on what turned out to be a broken leg. He missed both the British Open and PGA Championship that summer.
In 2010, he began the year in isolation, having banished himself from playing prior to the Masters because of a series of revelations of personal infidelity that eventually led to his divorce. He missed the 2011 U.S. Open (at Congressional) and the British Open later that summer with injuries to his left knee and Achilles tendon.
During an interview last week in Washington, Woods drew a distinction between his leg problems and this back issue that, in retrospect, sounds ominous.
“It’s very different injury than my knee,” Woods said. “My knee was at a point where it hurt after impact [with the ball]. I could deal with the pain, because it’s going to be after impact.
“This is different. This affects every shot, every stance. This is very different. I’ve had to treat this as something that’s not normal to me. Over the years I’ve been able to play through my knee injuries. I’ve tried to play through it, and I just can’t.”
Since appearing in the Masters for the first time in 1995, when he was a 19-year-old amateur, Woods has always made it to Augusta — the venue he knows best, and the place he will likely have to win again should he eventually catch Nicklaus. His last Masters victory came in 2005, but in the eight years since, he has finished in the top six seven times — including twice as runner-up.