Woods unlikely to play in Masters: Lyle

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LONDON (Reuters) - Tiger Woods's chances of returning to action in time for next year's first major look grim, according to former Masters champion Sandy Lyle.

Woods, who won the first of his 14 major championships at Augusta in 1997, issued a statement on Friday saying he was taking an "indefinite break" from golf following revelations about his private life.

Lyle, who won the Masters in 1988, said Woods may not even return for the British Open at St Andrews in July but thinks the challenge of breaking the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus will help him get his career back on track.

"It's wise for him to stop playing for the time being. There is not much going on for the next month or so, there is a rest period," Lyle told BBC's Radio Five's Sportsweek.

"As far as the Masters is concerned in April, it looks a bit grim, as does the Open but things can change rapidly.

"He might just walk away from the game. He is a wealthy man and does not really need to play golf but he has some fantastic goals. He wants to win more majors than Jack Nicklaus."

Woods's hitherto perfect career has been rocked by scandal since he crashed his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home last month but Lyle says the game would suffer if the American does not recover his status.

"He has done an awful lot for golf and the sport needs Tiger to come back," the 51-year-old Briton said. "We don't have another Tiger Woods in the background that we can rely on. He is one of those one in a million that come around. It's put golf on the map.

"This thing is a little bit of a shock to the system and we are all hoping that it will be resolved but it's going to take time. There's going to be changes and Tiger's attitude to playing golf might be very limited.

"There is a still a chance that he will break the record. He's only four majors off that so he could equal it. I am sure he will come back strong."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ed Osmond)