For the first time in two decades, Augusta National Golf Club won't have a Tiger prowling its fairways and greens when the Masters tees off on April 10.
And let's face it: A Masters without Tiger Woods will be downright strange. Maybe even a little sad.
But after Woods underwent a microdiscectomy to deal with a pinched nerve in his lower back, the world's No. 1 golfer not only is out for the upcoming Masters but very well may be staring at an entirely lost season in terms of his pursuit of golf's greatest all-time records.
That's because the courses that are set for this year's majors are ones that appear to favor a healthy Woods, and they are ones that Woods himself had expressed confidence and optimism about competing on prior to this latest injury setback.
The one record that everyone (including, it seems, Woods himself) is most obsessed with is the 18 major championships Jack Nicklaus won over the course of a storied career.
Woods has been stuck on the career total of 14 since he won the U.S. Open on what turned out to be a mangled knee in 2008 at the age of 32. Bum knee and all, it appeared then that getting to 18 would be relatively easy for the relentless, seemingly charmed Tiger.
Now his scorecard reads not one but a total of at least four knee surgeries and this latest back procedure. Obviously the powerful swing that the world has marveled at for years has taken a toll on his body, which suddenly seems even older than its 38 years.
The statement on Woods' website Tuesday indicated that the golfer will begin "intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment" within one week, with the rather vague goal being for him to return to competition "sometime this summer."
While it's not totally clear at the moment, it seems highly unlikely that Woods will be ready to return to action in time for the start of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on June 12. His participation in the third major of the season, the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool beginning on July 17, also seems in serious jeopardy.
In fact, ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell estimated that the average recovery time from surgery like Woods had is four-and-a-half months. That would put his return at mid-August and would likely result in him missing out on competing in all four majors this year, including the PGA Championship that is scheduled to tee off at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., on August 7.
That could end up being a death blow to Woods' career pursuit of the record for most major championships.
After all, this was supposed to be the year that set up for Tiger to become Tiger again in golf's four majors.
That's because everyone thought Woods was finally of sound mind and body again, and because the venues for this year's majors appeared to give him a decided advantage. Six of the 14 career majors he had already claimed came on this year's tournament courses—four at Augusta and one each at Royal Liverpool and Valhalla.
Even at Pinehurst, where he has not won a major, he's come darn close. He has top-three finishes in each of the previous two U.S. Opens played there.
As recently as last December, Woods talked openly with the media about how he hoped—even expected—to take full advantage of this season's lineup of venues at the major championships.
"I've won at every one except Pinehurst," Woods said at his World Challenge event, according to ESPN.com. "And I'm trending in the right way. I've finished second, third...you get the picture, right? OK. so I'm looking forward to the major championships. They have set up well for me over the years, and I look forward to it."
It wasn't long after that, though, that it became readily apparent something wasn't quite right with Woods. Now, in the wake of the back surgery, there is legitimate concern that this might be a totally lost season.
Some seemed to hold out hope for an earlier return for Woods, but their optimism did not seem based on anything more than, well, their optimism.
Golf writer Kyle Porter of CBS Sports conceded only that the latest news "probably puts his U.S. Open status in jeopardy as well."
Notah Begay, who roomed with Woods in college at Stanford and remains a close friend, told USA Today that the back procedure was "minimally invasive" and insisted it wasn't "a lost year" for Tiger, implying that Woods could still end up playing in as many as all three of the majors that follow the Masters.
That seems unlikely. But it will, in large part, be decided by how well Woods walks the fine rehabilitation line between trying to do too much too fast to get back and taking his time to make sure he gets the back 100 percent right before making his return—even if that means taking most or all of the remainder of this season off completely.
Begay, for one, believes that Woods will push himself aggressively and beat the odds that seem stacked against him.
"Telling Tiger Woods to back off the training is like telling someone they can't have their morning coffee," Begay told writer Steve DiMeglio of USA Today. "It's part of his daily routine. He loves to train, he loves to work, he loves to practice."
That used to be more than enough for a young, talented and healthy Woods. Now, no one can be sure it will return middle-aged Tiger to his former glory.
Considering how this year's lineup of major championships seemed set solidly in his favor, 2014 is a murky proposition at best for Woods now.
Joe Menzer writes about golf, college basketball, NASCAR and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.
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