As much as the green jacket, Rae's Creek and the azaleas in full bloom, Tiger Woods has been a magnetic fixture in the Masters since his historic win in 1997.
But like the iconic Eisenhower Tree that fell in February, Woods and his towering presence will not be at Augusta National Golf Club next week. The world's No. 1 player won't drive down Magnolia Lane for the first time since 1995 following back surgery Monday for a pinched nerve in his troublesome back.
"It also looks like I'll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy," the four-time Masters champion announced Tuesday on his website. " … This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health."
Woods, 38, underwent a microdiscectomy Monday in Park City, Utah, performed by neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Rich. A microdiscectomy is minimally invasive spine surgery to relieve pressure and pain caused by a disc problem. Woods, who will miss his fifth major since 2008, wrote that within a week he will begin intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment. Recovery can take several weeks and Woods wrote that he hopes to be playing this summer.
His absence at the Masters and beyond will be in full view. For nearly two decades, Woods has dominated the golf world as its leading man, pulling in fringe sports fans while pulling down the biggest TV ratings when he played. He set the bar for his colleagues, leading them into the weight room while leaving them behind in route to 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour titles.
"It's a big loss for golf and a big loss for the Masters," Luke Donald said. "He's the main ticket who brings out the fans and obviously he's been instrumental in growing the game in the last 20 years."
How soon he'll return is unknown, putting in jeopardy his ability to defend his title in The Players Championship in May and to play in the U.S. Open in June and the British Open at Royal Liverpool in July. Woods won the 2006 British Open at Liverpool.
Woods could begin chipping and putting in three weeks and wrote on his web site that the surgery should not impact his career long term.
"As I have said many times, Tiger has a lot of years of good golf ahead of him," Jack Nicklaus said in a statement. "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."
While Woods' back is his immediate concern, he will be mindful going forward of other injuries he's suffered. He's had four surgeries on his left knee, including reconstructive surgery following his victory in the 2008 U.S. Open, which forced him to miss the British Open and PGA Championship that year. He missed the 2011 U.S. Open and British Open because of an Achilles injury he suffered in the 2011 Masters.
Woods also dealt with an elbow injury during last year's U.S. Open and was forced to withdraw from his own AT&T National two weeks later. And he withdrew from The Players Championship in 2010 (neck injury) and 2011 (Achilles).
His back, however, may change Woods' thinking about how he'll deal with injuries in the future and how he'll spend his time in the weight room. He's famous for pounding heavy weights but now may structure his workouts to increase flexibility instead of muscle mass.
"We've got to make sure that we do preventative things to make sure that it doesn't happen and adjust certain things, whether it's swing, lifting, whatever it may be, you have to make certain adjustments," Woods said at the Cadillac Championship. "We've done that throughout my entire career and this is no different."
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TV analyst Notah Begay, who is Woods' friend and former college roommate, told Golf Channel the back surgery is "minimally invasive" and said "it's not a lost year" for Woods.
"It's an opportunity to try to perform at a higher level for three majors versus performing at a lower level for four majors," said Begay, who battled back problems during his PGA Tour career. "Or if he were to get hurt again possibly cost him playing in the major championships during the summer."
Begay said it pained him to see the amount of discomfort Woods was in on a regular basis.
"Telling Tiger Woods to back off the training is like telling someone they can't have their morning coffee," Begay said. "It's part of his daily routine, he loves to train, he loves to work, he loves to practice. Getting rid of the pain, getting the back strong, which I am 100% confident that he's going to be able to do, is of the utmost importance right now."
Woods, who won five times last year, is off to the worst season of his professional career. He missed the 54-hole cut in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he's won eight times. He tied for 41st in Dubai, withdrew from the Honda Classic in the final round with five holes to play, and then tied for 25th in the Cadillac Championship where he was bothered by back spasms. Two weeks ago he withdrew before the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The tournament host said any extended absence of Woods from golf will have an impact.
"There's no question about that," Palmer said last month. "He has been a very popular player because of his record and because of the performances that he has put on through the recent years. Will it affect the game? Probably to some degree. But there will be someone else. There will be someone that will come along that will be a great player, and will get attention. And I think that's good. I think it's important that we have those people come along."
Woods, who has 13 top-10 finishes in 17 starts in the Masters as a pro, will be missed next week. His last victory at Augusta came in 2005.
"Everyone should be disappointed," said Paul Azinger, a major champion, former Ryder Cup captain and current analyst for ESPN. "He is so polarizing. People who don't necessarily watch golf tune in to watch Tiger. … It's sad to see."
Steve Stricker, however, said the Masters will "still go on."
"It's really anybody's tournament, but it's unfortunate that he won't be there," Stricker said on Golf Channel. "(The Masters is) still the first major of the year, still a lot of anticipation. Tiger not being there will obviously take away from some of that (excitement) but they'll still be a lot of buzz."
Contributing: Reid Cherner