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Olazabal out of US masters

Jose Maria Olazabal has pulled out of next month's US Masters.

Champion at Augusta in 1994 and 1999 -- he was Europe's last winner there -- the 44-year-old Spanish star is again suffering from rheumatism, and his manager Sergio Gomez said today that he will be pulling out of the tournament this week.

"He has pain in his shoulder, forearms and hands. He can't swing properly, so we won't be going," said Gomez.

"He is practising a little bit, but for not much more than an hour. If new miracle remedies help then he will be back, but traditional medicine is failing."

Olazabal, the favourite to succeed Colin Montgomerie as Ryder Cup captain, has not played a tournament since finishing 14th at the Castellon Masters last October.

It will be the first Masters he has missed since 1996 when he spent the whole season on the sidelines after being diagnosed with rheumatoid polyarthritis.

There were fears that his future would be in a wheelchair at that stage, but the man who with Seve Ballesteros formed the most successful partnership in the Ryder Cup history -- only two defeats in 15 games together -- came back for a second win at Augusta three years later.

Only four years ago Olazabal finished joint third there and was also part of the winning Ryder Cup team, his first appearance in the event since 1999, but he was only able to play seven European Tour events the next season and six in 2008.

Last year appeared more promising as he upped his events to 16, only for the situation to worsen again over the winter.

Olazabal was inducted into golf's Hall of Fame in Florida in November, and a month later was close to tears again when he made a lifetime achievement award to Ballesteros -- fighting his own battle with a brain tumour -- for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year programme.

Ballesteros hopes to be at St Andrews in July for a champions challenge on the eve of the Open. Now he will also be hoping that his great friend makes a recovery in time to try to qualify for that event.

A long absence from the game could well affect Olazabal's chances of being the 2012 Ryder Cup captain. Part of the thinking in giving Montgomerie the job for this year's match was that he was in close touch with the players.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has said he is sure Tiger Woods will still be a "terrific golfer" when he returns to competition, while one of the PGA Tour's most senior players urged America to forgive the scandal-hit golfer.

"Tiger has acknowledged that he betrayed his family. I hope they've worked it out and I am sure he is still going to be a terrific golfer," said Obama.

At the PGA Tour event in Tampa, Kenny Perry, who lost in a playoff at last year's Masters, also agreed that Woods would still be a great player and urged the public to forgive the world number one.

"We have all made mistakes. It's like any sickness, like alcohol, drugs, you name it; there's so many things out there that people get hung up on and it grabs you and just can't get away from it," said Perry.

Asked how he would react if he bumped into Woods on the practice range at Augusta, Perry said: "I'm going to go give him a hug. I'm going up there and (will) get right in his face and tell him if I can do anything for him, let me know. I'm here to help you."