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Jack Nicklaus will miss Masters

For the first time in 40 years, the Masters will have to go on without Jack Nicklaus.

After months of hoping that exercise would strengthen his degenerative left hip, Nicklaus has decided that the only way to play competitively again is to have hip replacement surgery.

"While I do feel stronger and in better condition, I am not strong enough to play the best golf I possibly can to start the year," Nicklaus, who turns 59 next week, said in a statement.

The operation, scheduled for Jan. 27, means Nicklaus will miss the Masters for the first time since 1959, when he failed to make the cut as a 19-year-old amateur. Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead hold the record for most consecutive Masters at 44.

Nicklaus also withdrew from two Senior PGA Tour events this month, the MasterCard Championship and the Senior Skins Game. In addition to the Masters, he is expected to miss the first two majors on the senior circuit.

"When I feel strong enough and able to play golf at a competitive level, I will continue to play tournament golf," said Nicklaus, the winner of 18 majors and two U.S. Amateur titles. "If I want to play later this year and in the future, now is the time for surgery."

A year ago, George Archer became the first player with an artificial hip to win a senior tour event.

Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, did not say when he might return, although later this year is not out of the question.

With his youngest son getting married Feb. 20, wife Barbara told The Palm Beach Post, "I expect to have him dancing by then."

Nicklaus was hobbling so badly at times last year that he stopped his streak of 146 consecutive majors when he pulled out of the British Open. This will be the third straight major he has failed to play.

"I can hit golf balls all I want. And I can walk," he said in October. "But the two of them -- they don't like each other."

Nicklaus' record at Augusta goes beyond his six green jackets. He won his first Masters in 1963 and his last won 23 years later when he shot a 30 on the back nine. He was a runner-up four times and finished in the top 10 in every Masters in the 1970s.

Even at 58, he showed he could still compete with the best. He dazzled the gallery again in April by closing with a 68 and finishing just three strokes behind Mark O'Meara. His tie for sixth made him the oldest player in Masters history to finish in the top 10.

Nicklaus, captain of the U.S. team that was crushed in the Presidents Cup, has said he wants to be able to play all four majors in 2000, particularly because of their locations.

The U.S. Open will be at Pebble Beach, where Nicklaus won in 1972. The British Open will be at St. Andrews, where he won two of his three claret jugs. The PGA will be at Valhalla outside Louisville, a course Nicklaus designed.

"My goal is not so much '99," he said recently. ``I want to get myself to where I can possibly do what I have to do to be reasonable in the year 2000."



TW 14/1/99