TIGER Woods has been warned he faces a “career-threatening injury” after being forced to miss the Masters for the first time in 20 years.
The world No 1, who has been struggling with back trouble for more than six months, underwent surgery on a pinched nerve on Monday and announced yesterday that he will not be playing at Augusta National next week.
The 38-year-old is hoping he can make a full recovery and return to action in the summer, but Paul Azinger, who led the Americans to victory in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, has cast doubt on Woods’ career.
“This is as career-threatening an injury as his knee,” tweeted Azinger in reference to the problems Woods encountered in 2008 that led to surgery and forced him to miss that year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Woods, a four-times Masters winner, pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill as defending champion a fortnight ago in a bid to see if the back problems that had flared up during the Honda Classic earlier in the season could ease sufficiently to extend his broken playing streak at Augusta National.
But, in a statement released on his website, he said: “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.
“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.
“I’d also like to thank the fans for their support and concern. It’s very kind and greatly appreciated. This is frustrating but it’s something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health.”
Woods, who has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 US Open, could now face a race against to make that event at Pinehurst in June. His participation in this year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006, could also be in doubt.
“He will begin intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment within a week,” said a statement on the player’s website. “Healing and recovery times differ for each individual based on many physiological factors but he could begin chipping and putting, after assessment by his doctors, in three weeks.”
Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors and also has sights set on toppling Sam Snead as the most prolific winner on the PGA Tour. Snead racked up 82 in his career and Woods is just three short of that total.
“It’s tough right now but I’m absolutely optimistic about the future,” insisted Woods. “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.”
Woods was praised by Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman, for keeping officials abreast of his situation. “Tiger was gracious in keeping us updated of his condition and making us aware of his decision,” said Payne.
“We wholeheartedly offered our best wishes for his immediate and long-term recovery. Tiger will be in our thoughts and will be missed by our patrons and all of us at the Masters Tournament next week. He is one of our most decorated champions and we look forward to his healthy return in 2015 and beyond.”
Nicklaus said of Woods in a statement: “I hate to see him robbed of time by injury. But we know he’s doing what’s in best interest of his health and future.”
Women’s world No 2 Suzann Pettersen, meanwhile, has withdrawn from this week’s major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, due to back problems. “Dedicating all my energy to healing and getting back on the course,” tweeted Pettersen.