Tiger Woods had surgery on his ailing back and said Tuesday he will miss the Masters for the first time in his career.
Woods said on his website that he had surgery Monday in Utah for a pinched nerve that had been hurting him for several months, knowing the surgery would keep him from Augusta National next week for the first time since he was in high school.
The No. 1 player in the world is a four-time Masters champion.
“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.
“It’s a week that’s very special to me,” he said. “It also looks like I’ll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.”
The Masters gets the highest television ratings of any golf tournament, and while Woods last won a green jacket in 2005, he commands most of the attention. He won his first Masters in 1997 when he set 20 records, from youngest Masters champion (21) to his 12-shot margin of victory.
Woods has been coping with back issues since last summer — a twinge in the final round of the PGA Championship, spasms in the final round of The Barclays that caused him to fall to his knees, and then it returned with alarming regularity during the Florida swing.
He withdrew after 13 holes in the final round of the Honda Classic with what he described as lower back pain and spasms. Woods shot the highest final round of his career at Doral a week later when he said his back flared up again in the final round. He skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he was the two-time defending champion, to rest his back and do everything possible to be at Augusta National next week.
He said he had a microdiscectomy for the pinched nerve, performed by neurosurgeon Charles Rich.
A microdiscectomy is a type of minimally invasive spine surgery to relieve pressure and pain caused by a herniated disc. Operating through a small incision in the lower back, surgeons remove small disc fragments that are pressing against spinal nerves.
Recovery can take several weeks and doctors typically advise against bending and twisting the back until patients are completely healed
“This is frustrating,” Woods said. “But it’s something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health.”
Woods said he hopes to return to golf this summer, though he could not say when. It’s possible he could at least start chipping and putting in three weeks. His website said Woods could have sustained more damage if he had continued to play.
He will have to wait until the U.S. Open — maybe longer — to resume his quest to reach Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional majors. Woods won his 14th major at the 2008 U.S. Open on a badly injured left leg that required season-ending surgery two days after his playoff win at Torrey Pines.
He has not won another major since then.
Woods has 79 career wins on the PGA Tour, three short of the record held by Sam Snead. He already was off to the worst start of his career. He missed a 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines, where he was the defending champion. He tied for 40th in Dubai, and then withdrew from the Honda Classic and tied for 25th at Doral.
“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.”