Woods's climb to catch Nicklaus grows steeper

Tue Apr 1, 2014 3:37pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - Doubts about Tiger Woods's chances of surpassing Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles soared on Tuesday as the world number one revealed he had back surgery and would miss the Masters.

The clock has been ticking ever louder on Woods's quest to catch Nicklaus through his six-year major title drought since winning the 2008 U.S. Open, and the climb has grown steeper with time and championship opportunities slipping away.

Four-time Masters winner Woods, stuck on 14 majors, had back surgery for a pinched nerve on Monday and will be missing the trip to Augusta National for the first time since appearing in 1995 when he was a 19-year-old amateur.

And the magic Nicklaus number 18 could haunt Woods during his recovery as his absence from the Masters will stretch his majors drought to 18 events with serious questions still to be answered about his playing future.

The 38-year-old Woods, who won five times in 2013 but failed to play his best in the majors, remains hopeful he will be back competing at his world number one level by mid-2014.

"It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future," said Woods, whose back pain surfaced last year and intensified this season leading to a retirement at last month's Honda Classic and his skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Swing changes and personal issues cost Woods opportunities in the past, but the mounting time lost to injuries could be a final blow that derails the dominant golfer of his generation.

Woods's injury history began with a troublesome left knee, first operated on when he was a freshman at Stanford University in 1994. Three more operations on that knee have followed.   Continued...

Mar 7, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Tiger Woods acknowledges after a putt on the 18th green during the first round of the WGC - Cadillac Championship golf tournament at TPC Blue Monster at Trump National Doral. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports