Originally created 04/02/02

Nicklaus withdraws from Masters



Jack Nicklaus, the most dominant player at Augusta National with six green jackets won over 23 years, withdrew Tuesday from this year's Masters because of lingering back problems.

It will be only the second time since 1959 that Nicklaus has missed the Masters. He also skipped in 1999 when he was recovering from hip replacement surgery.

While the 62-year-old Golden Bear has expressed concerns about competing against players half his age on an Augusta National course that has added nearly 300 yards, it was a back injury that has plagued him for nearly a year that forced him to withdraw.

He has not played an official tournament since July 29, when he tied for third in the Senior British Open.

Nicklaus also withdrew from this week's Legends of Golf on the Senior PGA Tour.

"We are disappointed that due to his health, Jack will not be competing in this year's Masters," Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said. "Jack has made numerous contributions to this tournament, and we hope physically he is able to play golf again soon."

Nicklaus planned to release a statement later Tuesday.

He first suggested he might skip the Masters in January, when his lower back caused problems swinging the club.

Nicklaus joined Augusta National last year and played in a members' tournament in November. He said he couldn't reach the fairway bunker on No. 1 from the members' tees, and routinely hit his drives only about 210 yards.

Golf World magazine recently checked the scores Nicklaus was posting at his home course, The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla., and found his handicap index was 2.

Nicklaus still plans to go to Augusta National next week for the Champions Dinner, and did not rule out playing the Masters again, depending on his health.

His six victories, the last one coming in 1986 when he was 46, tell only part of the story of how Nicklaus dominated Augusta National with power, skill and experience in 42 appearances in the Masters.

When he missed the cut last year at age 59, it was only the fourth time he failed to make it to the weekend at golf's first major championship. He also missed the cut in 1994, withdrew in 1983 and kissed the cut as an amateur in 1959.

He won his first Masters in 1963 and became the first back-to-back champion in 1965-66. In the '65 Masters, Nicklaus set the tournament record of 271 with a nine-stroke victory over chief rivals Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

The record was tied by Raymond Floyd in 1986, and broken by one stroke when Tiger Woods shot a 270 in 1997 during his 12-stroke victory.

The most dramatic victory was his last one, when Nicklaus shot a 30 on the back nine to beat Tom Kite and Greg Norman in 1986.

Even after turning 50, Nicklaus has pulled a few surprises. He tied for sixth in 1998 after another Sunday charge, and in 2000 he was only six strokes out of the lead going into the weekend. He closed with a 81-78 to tie for 54th.

"I've had a lot of great rounds at Augusta," Nicklaus said in January. "It's not important to me if I don't go out and play again, knowing I don't have a chance to win."