Lusetich: Chasing Nicklaus just got tougher for Tiger Woods

Never has Tiger Woods seemed more mortal, less in control of his destiny than he does now.

Woods sent shock waves throughout the world of golf Tuesday when he announced that for the first time in 20 years he will not play in the Masters.

It’s his favorite tournament. He has won at Augusta National four times, though not since 2005. It’s the only major he has never skipped.

But Monday, Woods underwent a microdisectomy — trimming the area of the disk in his back so it doesn’t bother the nerve — in an attempt to surgically repair the pinched nerve problem that has plagued him this season.

"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.


The optimistic view — as reflected in a statement Woods issued on his website — is that he’ll be back sometime in the summer and as good as ever.

"It’s tough right now, but I’m absolutely optimistic about the future," Woods said. "There are a couple (of) records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I’ve said many times, Sam (Snead) and Jack (Nicklaus) reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine."

That, however, remains to be seen. The only certainty with Woods these days is that there are no certainties. Since the scandal that derailed him in 2009, Woods has gone from the surest thing in sports — 14 majors won, all with the lead going into the final round — to an unknown quantity.

There are weeks in which he seems like his old self. Let’s not forget that he won five times last year. And then there are weeks where he’s either awful (the third round at Torrey Pines in January) or that his body betrays him, as it did in leading to his last-round withdrawal at the Honda Classic.

Woods is 38, and though that isn’t old for a golfer, he’s an old 38, perhaps inevitably given the stresses put on his body by golf’s most high-octane swing.

"This is as career-threatening an injury as his knee," Paul Azinger tweeted Tuesday.

Woods has had four surgeries on his left knee, had trouble with both Achilles, suffered from elbow, wrist and neck injuries and now has the most daunting injury for a golfer: the back.

Woods often mentions that Nicklaus, whose mark of 18 majors he covets, won his last at 46 — the implication being that he has many years left to win majors.

But the truth is he’s been stuck on 14 majors since June 2008.

And they’re not getting any easier to win.

And they’re certainly not easier to win for a golfer with a history of injury troubles.

It’s interesting to note that the last time Woods played an uninterrupted schedule was 2007. That was a seminal year in his career, according to former coach Hank Haney.

"For me, the job got harder (in 2007)," Haney wrote in The Big Miss, his revealing look at life inside Team Tiger. "There was more urgency and less fun. Tiger was more irritable and impatient. The process of improvement had been his emphasis when we first started our work, but he began to be much more concerned about results, or in his words, "getting the W."

"He never mentioned Nicklaus’ record, but it started to weigh more heavily at every major. And Tiger’s actions indicated he believed he had less time to do it than everyone else thought."

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich, Senior Golf Writer, turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.