American golfer Dudley Hart's brief return ends

COOLUM, Australia — Dudley Hart's return to tournament golf after an 18-month layoff due to spinal fusion surgery lasted just three rounds.

Hart, struggling with recurring pain in his legs after three rounds of the Australian Open in Sydney, pulled out of the fourth round and from the Australian PGA this week at Coolum.

The 42-year-old Hart had muscle spasms in the second round Friday at The Lakes in Sydney, but managed to shoot 68-69 to be among the leaders going into the weekend. But after a 1-over 73 Saturday, he said he contacted his physiotherapist about the problem, and both were concerned.

"It's a very similar pain to what I experienced before," Hart told a television interviewer, referring to the problem that required surgery to fuse two discs in his spine. "It's about as bad as when I had to have surgery. I'm really nervous about what's going on. I'm nervous of the symptoms."

Hart had planned to use the two Australian tournaments as preparation for his return to the PGA Tour in 2011, where he has a medical exemption to play 13 events.

On Sunday, Hart attempted to play the fourth round of the Australian Open but after two or three shots on the practice range, he said he knew he couldn't complete the tournament. He had asked Golf Australia for an invitation to the Australian Open, and the PGA of Australia for one to the Australian PGA, and both agreed.

He apologized to both groups before returning to the United States on Sunday.

Last week, he'd been optimistic about his chances in Sydney, playing down suggestions that the long flight to Australia might not have been wise.

"In my mind I was thinking that, but if I could come down here and play two weeks in a row, and my back could handle the flight and playing two weeks in a row, to me that is a great test," Hart said. "Maybe I can tweak something and get past this and have no more issues. Then I'll be raring to go for January for our new season."

Hart's last tournament was the Colonial in May 2009.

He has two PGA Tour victories — the 1996 Canadian Open and 2000 Honda Classic.