Tiger Woods is a major doubt for the Masters after admitting there is "no timetable" regarding his return to golf. The American has withdrawn from a third consecutive tournament, next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, due to continued rest and rehabilitation on a back issue which flared up upon the resumption of his career in February.
The 14-time major champion pulled out of the Dubai Desert Classic – his third tournament since returning from 16 months out after two bouts of back surgery to correct spinal nerve damage – due to suffering back spasms following the first round. The problem forced him to miss the Genesis Open, the Honda Classic and threw his future in the sport into deep uncertainty.
The event at Bay Hill, the first since Palmer's death last September, is among the premier tune-up events for players ahead of the Masters at Augusta, which takes place on 6-9 April and is the first major of 2017. Woods is assured automatic entry having won the green jacket four times, the last coming in 2005, but now appears destined to miss the event for the third time in four years.
"Unfortunately, due to ongoing rest and rehabilitation on my back, I won't be able to play in this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational," Woods told his official website. "I'm especially disappointed because I wanted to be at Bay Hill to help honour Arnold. This is one event I didn't want to skip.
"Arnold has meant so much to me and my family; I thought of him as a close friend, and Sam and Charlie were both born in the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. He will be greatly missed and can never truly be replaced. Presently, I have no timetable for my return to golf, but my treatments are continuing and going well."
Woods had intended to provide a prognosis over his injury but will now undergo further tests as his career continues on a downward trajectory. The 41-year-old is now ranked 713th in the world golf rankings and there remain questions over whether he will ever again appear on a course in a competitive guise.