Dane Bjorn pulls out of Australian Masters

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MELBOURNE, Nov 21 (Reuters) Denmark's Thomas Bjorn has withdrawn from this week's Australian Masters for family reasons, organisers said today.

The 36-year-old only arrived in Australia yesterday but is returning home to be with his wife Pernilla, whose scheduled back surgery has been brought forward from November 30.

''We empathise with Thomas's position and fully respect his desire to be with his family at this time,'' tournament official David Rhodes said in a statement on the European Tour's Web site (www.europeantour.com).

Bjorn, the highest-ranked European in the field at world No. 98 and twice a Ryder Cup player, had been seeking his 10th European PGA Tour title at Huntingdale Golf Club.

His absence is a blow to the Australasian Tour co-sanctioned event, which still includes five players in the world's top-50 led by Australia's number 18 Aaron Baddeley.

Former US Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand is hoping to use the tournament to kick-start his career after two years without a victory in which his world ranking has dropped to 152nd.

Briton Justin Rose, who won the 1.33 million dollar tournament last year, will not defend his title at the par-72, 6,383m course.

Melbourne has been buffeted by heavy rain since yesterday, though the weather is expected to be warm and dry when the first round begins tomorrow.

REUTERS RAR SSC1235

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