ORLANDO (AFP) - Seven-time major winner Arnold Palmer says the chances of Tiger Woods overtaking Jack Nicklaus as the all-time major title leader are shrinking as his major win drought nears six years.
Speaking on the eve of the opening round of the US PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the 84-year-old US legend noted the back spasms that caused Woods, 38, to pull out of the event on Tuesday as well as the issue of age.
"I don't think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did," Palmer said. "I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. It's going to be tough.
"It's going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors." World number one Woods won his 14th and most recent major crown at the 2008 US Open but remains four shy of matching the career major win mark of Nicklaus.
In prior years, knee injuries have hindered Woods in his quest to move closer to boyhood idol Nicklaus on the all-time list.
But after changing his swing and winning five titles last year, back spasms have hit Woods this year.
He withdrew with five holes to play earlier this month at PGA National due to back spasms and struggled to finish the last few holes on Sunday two weeks ago at Doral when he fired a 78.
Add his withdrawal at Bay Hill, where he has won eight times before, and the superstar's status for next month's Masters, which he has won four times just like Palmer did, has become a major question mark.
"He didn't tell me how bad his back is," Palmer said. "I don't think he knows how bad his back is.
"He just feels that at this stage he needs to take his time and rest, whether it's this week, next week or the following week, to get ready for Augusta. Certainly if I were in that position I would be doing much the same." Woods has never won at Augusta without winning a prior title in the same year, something he has not done this year.
And 12 of the past 16 major winners have been first-time major winners.
Woods faces a host of players trying to capture their first majors, a new generation he helped inspire setting a standard that he might not be able to meet anymore.
"These young guys are tough," Palmer said. "And if they continue to play as well as they have been playing, it's going to be tough for anybody to continue to win major championships."