For only the second time in two decades, Billy Foster’s presence will not be felt at Augusta.
The Bingley bagman, one of the great characters of the caddying trade, has still not overcome fully a serious knee injury he sustained playing football nearly a year ago.
The man who carried the bag for Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke has effectively been unemployed for the last 12 months as an initial diagnosis of two weeks that left him “gutted” extended into a year-long battle to recover.
Foster snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on April 30. After three operations and reconstructive surgery he is weeks away from a return, though Augusta has come too soon.
When he does stride the fairways again it will not be as the reliable sidekick of Lee Westwood, the employer who brought him his greatest rewards and finest experiences.
Westwood waited six months for Foster to recover, but with the former world No 1’s move to America coming at the end of 2012, he eventually had to make the change. Foster understood, but the break-up crushed him.
Players have already been in touch about employing the vastly-experienced caddie, but even after this most frustrating of years, Foster will not rush back.
“The knee’s still not 100 per cent and I won’t go back until it is,” he said.
“I’ll continue to take my time, but it’s been very hard to stomach.
“I was gutted when I thought it would be two weeks, then devastated when they said I’d miss the US Open. When the full extent of it was determined it was always going to be months not weeks.
“I’m looking forward to getting back; golf has been part of my life for 30 years. The guys on tour are like your family.
“I’ve had offers, but I can’t commit to anyone until I’m 100 per cent, and Augusta is not a course to be returning to if you’re not fully fit. There’ll be changes after Masters week, there always is.”
Foster, who will join the worldwide audience of intrigued TV viewers, will be working with Sky Sports on their Masters Breakfast show in London from tomorrow.
His tip for the green jacket? “Charl Schwartzel. He’s flying under the radar. Ever since before Christmas he’s been on top form.
“He’s got a very strong mind and he doesn’t get ruffled easily. He’s very intelligent and he has the experience of winning at Augusta, which counts for so much.”
And what of his former employer, and the British challenge?
Foster said: “Lee is a fantastic ball-striker which is vitally important at Augusta.
“Luke Donald is the best wedge player I’ve seen in 30 years, and he’s a superb putter as well.
“Of all the Brits, Justin Rose has a good strong mind and if he can hole the putts, it might be his week.”