By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) - As speculation mounts over whether Tiger Woods will compete at the Masters, the former world number one has spurned the chance to play in next week's Houston Open, the final PGA Tour event before the year's first major.
Woods' name was conspicuously absent when the list of players for the April 2-5 Houston event was posted on Friday.
Should Woods decide to tee it up at the Masters, which starts on April 9, he would do so after not competing for 63 days.
A four-time Masters champion whose ranking has plummeted to 96th, Woods has played only twice on the 2014-15 PGA Tour and said he would not return until his game was "tournament-ready".
He missed the Masters last year for the first time in his career after being advised by doctors to have back surgery and his participation next month is in serious doubt given his struggle for form and fitness.
Woods posted the highest score of his professional career, a mind-boggling 11-over-par 82, to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open in January, and many pundits believe he is suffering from the chipping 'yips'.
He withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines early last month after 11 holes because of tightness in his back, and he is still adapting to the fifth swing change of his career.
Earlier this week, Woods' good friend Notah Begay III rated the former world number one's chances of taking part in the Masters as "50-50".
"It's literally a 50-50 chance right now from what I can tell," said Begay, a television analyst with Golf Channel who played with Woods on the Stanford University golf team.
"That's far better odds than what it was, say, three weeks ago. Three weeks ago, I would have said there was maybe a 1-in-10 chance of him playing at Augusta."
One thing in Woods' favor is his huge comfort factor at Augusta National where in 2010 he tied for fourth at the Masters after not playing competitive golf for five months.
He took an indefinite break from the game in late 2009, as his private life spectacularly unraveled, to try to repair his marriage amid revelations about his extra-marital affairs.
"He knows his way around the Augusta," Northern Irish world number Rory McIlroy said earlier this month. "If he feels ready to play and he does play then he knows what to do when there."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)