Golf: Woods thinking about long term, says Stricker

HOUSTON (AFP) - Veteran American golfer Steve Stricker one of Tiger Woods closest friends said Woods withdrawing from next week's Masters was no surprise and believes it is all about the 14-time Major winner remaining competitive over the next decade.

Woods advised Augusta National officials on Tuesday he has undergone surgery for a pinched nerve and will miss the Masters for the first time in his career having made his first appearance as an amateur in 1995.

"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. It also looks like I'll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.

"This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health." Woods has been suffering from back spasms in recent months as evident in having to withdraw from last month's Honda Classic along with struggling over of the final round of the following week's WGC - Cadillac Championship.

Then last fortnight Woods withdrew from the defence of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Woods withdrawal was the major talking point on the practice range for this week's Houston Open in Texas.

Stricker, who has been the most effective partner for Woods in team competitions such as the Ryder Cup an event in which Woods has always seemed ill at ease, at first thought it was an April Fool's Day prank.

"This is April Fool's Day and you're joking aren't you and you're telling me the truth?" the 47-year-old said smiling.

"No in all seriousness I think a lot of us saw this coming and I had heard that he had been making some decisions about his future but not just in the next month or two but over the next 10 years.

"So it's just too bad and it's unfortunate for the tournament but then the Masters will still go on, and there is a lot of great players that will be there, and it's really anybody's tournament as it is every other year.

"I know Tiger's struggled with injury a lot and he's been hurting for a while as he struggled with it last autumn at the Presidents Cup coming down the stretch to earn the point that we needed to win.

"It is something we all face as golfers these nagging little injuries and sometimes you have to take the time to deal with it and get it right so that you can play on." Former British Open winner Darren Clarke and also a good friend of Woods particularly since the death of Clarke's first wife agreed with Stricker.

"It is very disappointing and I feel for him as Augusta is one of his favourite tournaments but his health is more important than any golf tournament," said Clarke.

"But I am sure with the right rehab and the right doctors and stuff he will be alright.

"You have to remember that Tiger is the sort of guy that who has played through a lot of pain before and if he's pulled out then he obviously doesn't think he can compete." Britain's former World No. 1 Luke Donald said that Woods being absent would hurt the game's profile.

"It is disappointing for the fans and the game of golf because Tiger is a big part of what we play for and he's obviously he main attraction when it comes to golf tournaments," said Donald.

"He brings in the crowds and the fans and it is not a stronger game without him.

"So we all wish him a speedy recovery because no one out here likes getting injured but then we are fortunate in this game we get to play for a number of years, and while we always try to avoid injury, we all hope he gets back out here healthy and soon."