By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) - Tiger Woods will miss the Masters for only the second time since his tournament debut in 1995, saying he is "not physically ready" for the year's opening major next week.
The former world number one has been sidelined from competition since August as he continues his recovery from back surgeries, and was never likely to tee it up at Augusta National for the April 7-10 event.
"After assessing the present condition of my back, and consulting with my medical team, I've decided it's prudent to miss this year's Masters," Woods said in a statement on his official website.
"I've been hitting balls and training daily, but I'm not physically ready. I've said all along that this time I need to be cautious and do what's best for my long-term health and career.
"Unfortunately, playing Augusta next week wouldn't be the right decision," said Woods, a four-times Masters champion.
Now aged 40, Woods has not won a major title since he clinched the 14th of his career at the 2008 U.S. Open and his form has slipped dramatically in recent years due to injuries and the mastering of a new swing.
A tie for 10th at the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship in August, following a dismal season in which he missed three cuts in the majors, gave him encouragement before his health again intervened.
Three weeks later, he had a second microdiscectomy surgery to alleviate pressure on a disc in his lower back, before needing another procedure on Oct. 28 on the same area due to discomfort.
He has since been recuperating and in late February he posted a video of himself swinging a golf club in an effort to shoot down reports that suggested he had endured setbacks during his rehabilitation.
"I'm absolutely making progress, and I'm really happy with how far I've come, but I still have no timetable to return to competitive golf," said Woods, who won the Masters in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.
He missed the event for the first time in 2014 after undergoing a microdiscectomy.
"I'd like to express my disappointment to (Masters chairman) Billy Payne, the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I won't be competing," said Woods.
"It's a very important and special week to me, and it's upsetting to miss it. I do plan to attend the (Wednesday) Champions Dinner and see a lot of old friends."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine)