There have always been more questions than answers with Tiger Woods. How many strokes will he win by? Will he become the first billion-dollar athlete? He did what to his wife? He took a drop there?
Following Tuesday’s announcement that Woods will miss next week’s Masters after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back, the world’s top-ranked golfer is facing perhaps the greatest — or gravest — question of his colorful career: Will he ever be healthy enough to win more major championships?
The latest ailment, which has limited Woods to just three tournament starts this year, comes with a steep, immediate price. By having surgery Monday in Utah, Woods won’t be at Augusta National Golf Club next week, forced out of the Masters for the first time since making his debut there as an amateur in 1995.
It’s a tournament Woods has won four times, in 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005. Once again, he was the favorite to win this year. But once again, a major championship will be played — the 23d straight — without Woods winning it.
He made the announcement Tuesday on his website.
“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 a statement. “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.
“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 hasn’t played a competitive round since March 9 at Doral, when he was in obvious discomfort while shooting a final-round 78. He withdrew from the Honda Classic the week before with back spasms, and was unable to defend his title two weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Now he won’t be able to play in the season’s first major — and beyond, at least in the short term.
According to the message posted on Woods’s website, he had a microdiscectomy performed on Monday in Park City, Utah, by Dr. Charles Rich, a neurosurgeon.
The message said Woods has been suffering from a pinched nerve for several months, and now that he’s had surgery, rest and rehabilitation for the next several weeks have been recommended. That brings into question his availability for two tournaments he’s played in the past: the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., scheduled for May 1-4, then the Players Championship the next week. He won last year’s Players.
The next major championship after the Masters is the US Open, June 12-15 in Pinehurst, N.C. Will Woods be able to play there? The posted message said he’s hoping to resume playing “sometime this summer.”
“It’s tough right now, but I’m absolutely optimistic about the future,” Woods said.
He’s also chasing history. With 14 majors, Woods remains four behind the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus. He’s also 38 years old. There was a time, not all that long ago, when Woods reaching at least 19 professional majors seemed a stone-cold lock.
But with each passing year that goes by without Woods adding to his total — it will be six calendar years if he plays at Pinehurst — the biggest question isn’t whether he’ll equal Nicklaus; it’s whether Woods will ever win another major championship.
“I am sorry to hear that Tiger will miss the Masters Tournament,” Nicklaus said in a statement. “I know Tiger has been working very hard to return to form, and as I have said many times, Tiger has a lot of years of good golf ahead of him. I hate to see him robbed of some of that time by injury.
“But we all know he is doing what is in the best interest of his health and future. I wish him well on a speedy recovery.”
With 79 PGA Tour victories, Woods is also three away from Sam Snead’s record of 82.
“There are a couple records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break,” Woods said. “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 had missed the other three major championships at least once because of injury, but had played in every Masters from 1995-2013.
He missed the British Open and the PGA Championship in 2008 after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery (his 19-hole playoff win at the 2008 US Open, while limping much of the way, remains Woods’s most recent major), and missed the US Open and British Open in 2011 after suffering an Achilles’ tendon injury at that year’s Masters.