Woods to miss Masters after back surgery

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FILE: Tiger Woods of the USA plays his tee shot at the par 5, 16th hole during the third round of the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

By Julian Linden

(Reuters) - Tiger Woods announced on Tuesday he would miss next week's Masters after undergoing back surgery for a pinched nerve that has troubled him for months.

The world number one pulled out of his traditional Masters warm-up event in Florida last month and released a statement on his website on Tuesday saying he was withdrawing from the first major of 2014, starting at Augusta National on April 10.

"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," said Woods.

"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 won the Masters four times, in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, and had never missed the event since he made his debut at Augusta National as an amateur in 1995.

"Tiger was gracious in keeping us updated of his condition and making us aware of his decision," Billy Payne, the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, said in a statement.

"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."

Woods skipped two British Opens, one U.S. Open and one PGA Championship since 2008 because of injury and the 38-year-old has been plagued by painful back problems since last year that have worsened over the past month.

He failed to finish the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in early March, quitting after 13 holes in his final round.

Then the American tweaked his back again on the last day at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami a week later, tumbling out of contention with a final-round 78 to finish tied for 25th.

He then pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a key lead-up tournament he has won eight times, in the hope that he could play at the Masters before he opted to undergo surgery instead.

"This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health," said Woods, who has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Woods said he would begin intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment within the next week and expected to start chipping and putting in about three weeks, as long as his recovery went according to plan.

He said he risked further injury had he kept playing because of the repetitive motion from golf but there should be no long-lasting effects from the surgery and he hoped to resume playing by the middle of the year.

The next major after the Masters is the U.S. Open, to be played at Pinehurst, North Carolina in mid-June.

Woods currently has 14 majors to his credit, four short of the all-time record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus. He has also won 79 PGA Tour events, three behind Sam Snead's record of 82.

His latest injury is sure to raise fresh doubt about whether he will ever break those records but Woods was adamant that time was still on his side.

"It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future," Woods said. "There are a couple 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."

(Reporting Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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