Tiger Woods will miss the Masters for the first time in his professional career, he announced on his website Tuesday. The world's top-ranked golfer had back surgery Monday to repair a pinched nerve, the latest in a series of medical conditions that are clouding his chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus' career record of 18 major titles.
What impact his absence will have on the Masters next week is unknown, since he has played in every one since he was an amateur in 1995. He broke through with a record 12-stroke victory at Augusta National in 1997 -- the first of his 14 major championships. Even his self-imposed hiatus following the revelation of a personal scandal in late 2009 did not keep him away. He chose to make his return to competition at the 2010 Masters.
A statement on tigerwoods.com Tuesday said he had undergone a microdiscectomy by neurosurgeon Charles Rich in Park City, Utah, and that Woods' goal is to return to tournament golf "sometime this summer."
That would make him unlikely to play in the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., in June. Woods won five events and was the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2013, when he said he finally felt healthy (after four knee surgeries). But he has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, when he played on a broken leg. He has had back problems in recent months. Woods walked gingerly through the Barclays in Jersey City last August, citing an uncomfortable mattress. He withdrew during the final round of the Honda Classic last month.
"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 in the statement, adding of the annual first major, "It's a week that's very special to me."
"It's the most common operation performed by spine surgeons in the United States," said Dr. Andrew Hecht, chief of spine surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "The good news is that 90 percent of elite athletes can go back to being elite athletes after this surgery."
Hecht added that the average recovery time is between 12 and 16 weeks.
Tickets to the Masters are among the most prized in sports and are all sold in advance, so there won't be any impact on the gate. But television ratings and general national interest in tournaments always are diminished any time Woods is missing.
"It affects everything," Chris DiMarco, who lost the 2005 Masters playoff to Woods, said on his show Tuesday on Sirius XM radio's PGA Tour Network. DiMarco added this is one tournament that is bigger than any one player: "He loves the Masters, he respects the Masters. He knows it's a huge deal that he's not playing the Masters. Because he told everybody now, by the end of the weekend, it's going to be about Augusta."
That remains to be seen. Woods' future also is in question. His former swing coach Hank Haney, appearing on the same satellite radio program, cited the golfer's intense workout regimen as the source of his back injury.
"You don't get from where he was in college to where he is now by lifting five- and 10-pound weights. That just doesn't happen," Haney said. "Has that taken a toll on his body? Clearly it has. Is that the main reason, or is it the violence in his swing? Neither really matters. What matters is, can he get healthy enough to practice and does he have the desire to practice."