Since 1994, Augusta has never experienced a Masters Tournament without Tiger Woods.
This year will give a glimpse into the future.
“Sad to say I’m missing the Masters,” Woods tweeted April 1 in conjunction with a story on his Web site announcing a successful microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve that had hampered him since February. “Thanks to the fans for so many kind wishes.”
This was not an April Fools’ joke and Woods’ back troubles are no laughing matter. What started with a spasm that buckled him to his knees last August at The Barclays Championship had reemerged as a chronic issue when he was forced to withdraw in the middle of the final round at the Honda Classic on March 2.
He played through the pain a week later at Doral, but withdrew from Bay Hill in a desperate attempt to rehabilitate his back in time for the Masters.
Once it became apparent that a little extra rest wasn’t going to be enough and that repetitive motion of the golf swing could further damage his back, Woods went the surgical route hoping to fix it long term.
“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.
“I’d like to express my disappointment to the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I will not be at the Masters,” he added. “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.”
As his peers begin arriving at Augusta National for the season’s first major, Woods will be doing intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment. His doctors speculated that Woods might be able to begin chipping and putting in three weeks with a goal of returning to competitive golf “sometime this summer.”
His announcement optimistically said “there should be no long-lasting effects from the surgery, and it should not impact the longevity of his career.”
Until this week, the Masters was the only major championship Woods had never missed. Since first playing as an amateur in 1995, he’d made 19 consecutive Augusta starts with four wins and nine other top-eight finishes. Since winning his last green jacket in 2005, Woods had finished worse than sixth only once in his last eight starts.
Woods skipped the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008 after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery immediately after his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open. He missed the U.S. Open and British Open in 2011 after injuring his Achilles tendon hitting an awkward shot from the pine straw underneath the Eisenhower Tree in that year’s Masters.
The back injury is the most serious threat to date to all of Woods’ career goals. Augusta had been at the forefront of his mind all season as he tries to reboot his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ records of six green jackets and 18 career major wins. Woods has remained stuck on four and 14 approaching six full years.
“We’re all just building toward that one week in April,” Woods said in February before his body started betraying him.
What was already classified as Woods’ career worst start to a season has devolved into a relative disaster in the last six weeks. Woods shot a Saturday 78 and missed the secondary cut at Torrey Pines – a place that’s been his personal ATM with eight victories in his pro career. The next week he finished a pedestrian 41st in Dubai.