Tiger's record chase slipping away?

— -- The first thing I considered when I learned that Tiger Woods had withdrawn from the upcoming Masters Tournament wasn't that the event would suffer from the absence of its four-time champion.

Sure, it's a big deal for the game that Tiger won't play in Augusta next week, but the Masters is bigger than any one player.

Instead, I began to wonder how this latest injury, which will keep Woods out of his first Masters in 20 years, is a setback that could severely hurt his chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

Nicklaus' record is all that keeps Tiger playing. It's not to win FedEx Cups or to break Sam Snead's mark of 82 career PGA Tour wins or to amass more millions in earnings.

Nicklaus' record alone holds our attention.

This was supposed to be a special year in the majors for Tiger -- one that was sure to end his six-year winless drought in these events.

Woods had won six of his 14 majors on 2014's major courses. Even with the incredible depth in the game, it was a good bet that Tiger was going to win on at least one of these courses.

Now nothing is certain about his season of majors.

The back surgery this week is just one more calamity to derail Tiger's path to Jack in a long line of injuries and personal trials over the past several years.

How is Tiger going to beat kids nearly half his age with a bad back?

It's a shame.

Can you imagine if Henry Aaron got to 550 home runs and injuries kept him from reaching Babe Ruth's all-time record of 714? Or if Pete Rose had been kicked out of baseball nearly 1,000 hits shy of Ty Cobb's record?

Wouldn't it put a small blemish on one of the greatest sports stories of all time if Tiger couldn't complete the fairy tale and best Nicklaus? Wouldn't Tiger getting to 19 majors complete that wonderful arc that started with his 12-shot win at the 1997 Masters?

This injury and absence from Augusta has to scare the hell out of Tiger. How many more majors does he have to realistically be a top contender?

It's very presumptuous to think that Tiger would have won next week at Augusta. He had three victories last year going into Augusta and didn't break 70 in a tie for fourth. At the next three majors, his play was uninspired.

Withdrawing from the Masters just renders a win that was doubtful in the first place merely impossible to achieve because he's not in the field to create buzz about what he will do.

No need now to get your hopes up that he will do something miraculous to win his fifth green jacket.

For Tiger, Nicklaus' record must now feel like a very difficult climb at this point in his career. He turns 39 in December, and no matter what you do in terms of diet and exercise, the body continues to age.

But the good news is that when Tiger is healthy and in the field, he has at least a chance of competing. What's for sure is that he can't break the record if he is not healthy enough to play.

The game is at its best when he is competing at his best in the majors, and even better when he is winning these tournaments.

Down the line, what we may remember most about this time is not whether Tiger broke Nicklaus' record, but everything that he went through to try to do it.

After all the injuries that he has struggled through over the years, it's likely that whatever befalls him in his remaining days on tour will be borne out of great struggle and some pain.

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