LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Tiger Woods said Friday he won't play in next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational as he continues to work on his game in the hope of being ready for the Masters.
The 14-time major champion, chasing Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles, has plummeted to 79th in the world rankings after suffering a series of injuries and a severe slump in form.
On Feb 11 he used his website to announce he was taking a break from tournament golf in a bid to get his faltering game in shape, and on Friday he said he's not there yet.
"I spoke to Arnold today and told him that I will not play in his tournament this year," Woods wrote on his website.
"I'm sorry I won't be in Orlando next week, but I know it will be a really successful event," added Woods, an eight-time winner of Palmer's tournament at Bay Hill.
"I've put in a lot of time and work on my game and I'm making strides, but like I've said, I won't return to the PGA Tour until my game is tournament ready and I can compete at the highest level."
Woods, who last won the event at Bay Hill in 2013, has not played since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open in early February with stiffness in his back that he said came on during a lengthy fog delay.
At the time Woods said the problem had nothing to do with the back surgery he had early last year to ease a pinched nerve, after which he missed the Masters and US Open.
He made his return in June of 2014, missing the cut in the US PGA Tour's National at Congressional and finishing equal 69th at the British Open - the worst 72-hole major finish of his pro career.
Overall, in six PGA Tour events since he returned to competition at the National, Woods has missed three cuts - including at the 2014 PGA Championship - and withdrawn twice.
STILL AIMING FOR MASTERS
Prior to pulling out of the Farmers at Torrey Pines he missed the cut at the Phoenix Open, where he shot a career-worst 82 in the second round.
Woods said he is still hopeful he can take part in The Masters, which starts on April 9.
"I hope to be ready for the Masters, and I will continue to work hard preparing for Augusta," said Woods.
"I want to thank everyone again for their support."
Woods' plunge in the world rankings meant he did not qualify for the World Golf Championships at Doral earlier this month, just the second time in his career he failed to qualify for an elite WGC event.
Despite his stated aim of teeing it up at Augusta National, Woods' hopes for the first major of the year look increasingly dim.
The 39-year-old American has won the Masters four times, but has never donned a green jacket without first winning a tournament earlier that season.
He could opt to play a tune-up event in either San Antonio or Houston before the Masters, or even in both.
He hasn't played the San Antonio event since his rookie year and has never played in Houston.