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Nickaus may miss this years Masters

Six times winner Jack Nicklaus, who has played all but one of the last 42 Masters championships at Augusta, has hinted he might skip this year's event.

Nicklaus, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, said on Friday he would probably not make a final decision on whether to play in the first major of 2002 until March.

"I'm not too worried about it," the 61-year-old said during a conference call.

"I've had a lot of great rounds at Augusta. It's not important to me if I don't go out and play again, knowing I don't have a chance to win.

"I have no idea whether I'll play. I don't want to make a fool out of myself, either."

Nicklaus, who has been plagued by back trouble, has not played tournament golf anywhere in the world since last July, when he finished joint-third in the Senior British Open at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.

He has always maintained he would stop playing at the highest level of the game once he realised he had no chance of competing.

The golfer widely known as the Golden Bear also admitted that changes made to the Augusta National Golf Club layout since last year's Masters would almost certainly handicap his game.

Tees have been moved back on nine of the 18 holes, lengthening the course yardage from last year's 6,985 to 7,270.

"I just don't have the length and strength to play the golf course," he said. "It might be two shots tougher the way they have changed the golf course -- it might be five shots for me."

Nicklaus, whose last Masters victory came in 1986 when he became the oldest player to win the title at the age of 46, struggled off the tee when he played in a members' tournament at Augusta last November.

At the opening hole, he was unable to reach the fairway bunker from the members' tee and is now regularly hitting his drives only some 210 yards.

"I have not been able to stay down in a golf shot," he said. "That's improved a lot. I'm now 50 or 60 yards farther, but still not as long as I was."

The only time Nicklaus has missed the Masters was in 1999, when he was recuperating from hip replacement surgery.

He first played in the event in 1959 and won the cherished Augusta Green Jacket in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and for the last time in 1986.

He finished second in the Masters in 1964, 1971, 1977 and 1981.

Having played 155 competitive rounds in 41 tournaments at Augusta, he made the cut 37 times while averaging 71.74 for each round.

Nicklaus, who has won 18 major titles in his career, now plans to play in a Senior skins game in Hawaii next week, along with Hale Irwin, Arnold Palmer and Fuzzy Zoeller.

"Competitive golf has been my life as it relates to the game of golf," he said.

"To pull myself back and get away from it will be very difficult. But you have to be honest about what you're capable of doing."

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