Originally created 04/03/02

Nicklaus bows out of Masters



Jack Nicklaus won't have to worry about how to approach the revamped Augusta National Golf Club this year. A recurring back problem will keep him out of the Masters Tournament, the six-time winner said Tuesday.

Mr. Nicklaus, 62, informed Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson of his decision but said he still plans to attend the annual Champions Dinner next week. The 66th Masters Tournament will be April 11-14.

"Needless to say, I have a special place in my heart for Augusta National and the Masters, and I will miss not playing there this year," Mr. Nicklaus said in a statement on his Web site.

He did not rule out competing in future Masters, even though changes made to Augusta National since last year have added nearly 300 yards to the famed course.

Mr. Nicklaus was scheduled to make his 2002 tournament debut at the Legends of Golf in St. Augustine, Fla., this week, but the lower-back problems that have kept him out of tournament play since July forced the decision.

"As much as I'd like to play in both the Legends and the Masters, I do not think my golf game is suitable right now for the competition," he said.

It is the second time in four years that Mr. Nicklaus has missed the Masters because of health-related problems. He sat out in 1999 after undergoing hip-replacement surgery.

In 42 career starts at Augusta National, Mr. Nicklaus has missed the cut only four times, including last year, when he shot rounds of 73 and 75. He withdrew after the first round in 1983 because of back problems.

Mr. Nicklaus, who became an Augusta National member last fall, has an affiliation with the club that dates back to his Masters debut as an amateur in 1959.

He won the tournament for the first time in 1963, broke the tournament's 72-hole scoring record in 1965 and became the first player to successfully defend his title in 1966. Mr. Nicklaus added his fourth and fifth Masters titles in the 1970s, then set the golf world on its ear in 1986 with a Sunday charge that made him the oldest Masters winner at age 46.

Mr. Nicklaus has won 94 tournaments since turning pro in 1961, including a record 18 professional majors.

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

Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or jboyette@augustachronicle.com.