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A new cast of stars, even when Woods was playing

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 20, 2014 at 2:57 am •  Published: March 20, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods was a large part of the conversation on the eve of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

And he's not even playing.

Woods is missing Bay Hill for only the second time in his career when the tournament starts Thursday on a course that Palmer said is in the best shape ever. Woods has won eight times, including the last two years, but he called the 84-year-old host on Tuesday to say persistent back pain will keep him from playing.

"He didn't tell me how bad his back is. I don't think he knows how bad his back is," Palmer said. "I think he's listening to the doctors. And he mentioned that they're saying that he needs to give it a bit of a rest and see if he can work it out. He was very nice. And I, of course, have great sympathy for the fact that he tried like hell to come here and play. And I appreciate that and the fact that he called.

"I think he wanted to play golf this week," Palmer said. "I think that he needs to take (time) — whether it's this week, next week or the following week — to get ready for Augusta. Certainly, if I were in that position, I'd be doing much the same."

Most of the chatter was more about the future with Woods.

Will he play at the Masters? Stuck on 14 majors for the last five years, can he match or surpass the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus? And what will be the larger obstacle — his age (38), his health (legs and back) or the competition (long list)?

"I don't think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did," Palmer said. "I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. It's going to be tough. It's going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors."

Nicklaus won four of his majors after turning 38. Ben Hogan, with battered legs from a car accident, won five majors after turning 38.

Palmer, however, believes more than age is at stake for Woods.

"These young guys are tough, and they're strong," Palmer said. "And if they continue to play as well as they've been playing, it's going to be tough for anybody — whether it be Nicklaus or Tiger or whomever it would be — to continue to win major championships. And we're talking about guys that are playing good and coming on."

Palmer actually had a list of players he was talking about. Some of them were young, such as Chris Kirk and Harris English. Others had either won this season (Ryan Moore) or played well recently (Robert Garrigus).

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