Expect the unexpected at next week's Masters

Thu Apr 3, 2014 3:38pm EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - As the first of the season's four major championships, the Masters has always been the most keenly anticipated, a veritable golfing 'rite of spring' that brings together the game's leading players in Augusta, Georgia.

This year, that sense of expectation is especially heightened with the list of likely winners deeper than ever and multiple champion Tiger Woods a notable absentee for the first time in his career after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back.

Fellow American Phil Mickelson, another perennial contender at Augusta National, is also facing injury concerns of his own, leaving golf fans to expect even more of the unexpected as the April 10-13 tournament fast approaches.

Woods, who has claimed the coveted Green Jacket four times, has struggled with back pain since last August and he withdrew from last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational, his final tune-up event, to get ready for the Masters before that bid was aborted.

"This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health," said Woods.

Mickelson has won three times at Augusta National, most recently in 2010, but his preparations for the year's opening major were rocked when he pulled out of last week's Texas Open during the third round with a pulled abdominal muscle.

"My back's feeling great, my body's been feeling great. I felt as good as I have all year," said the left-hander, whose decision to withdraw seemed purely precautionary. "My speed is back, I was hitting the ball hard, driving it great.

"I pulled a muscle on my downswing trying to hit the ball hard ... it just killed and it wouldn't subside for 10 or 12 seconds ... there's really not much you can do for a pulled muscle. I hope I'll be OK."   Continued...

Mar 9, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Phil Mickelson tees off from the 5th hole during the final round of the WGC - Cadillac Championship golf tournament at TPC Blue Monster at Trump National Doral. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports