For Tiger Woods, it was a resounding comeback. After a back injury that seemed destined to end his career, he won the Masters Tournament in 2019, a thrilling comeback that captivated the nation.
But after a year of fits and starts without a major win, he announced last month that he had undergone yet another spine procedure that would keep him out of competition until later this year.
Then came the single vehicle crash on Tuesday in which his SUV pulled off the road and landed on a hill near Los Angeles, causing leg injuries that required Mr. Woods to undergo hours of surgery.
It was another devastating episode for Mr. Woods – who burst onto the national stage as a child and is the greatest golfer of his generation – and raises questions about his ability to make another comeback.
Over the past few years, Mr Woods, who has won 15 major championships, the second in the history of the sport after Jack Nicklaus’ 18, has spoken at length about the limitations his previous surgeries and injuries have caused.
They have significantly reduced the time he can practice and have often disrupted the flow and power of a once revered golf swing. For several of the past seasons, Mr. Woods could be seen wincing after every few strokes, and he often had trouble getting his golf ball back from the cup after completing a hole.
His accident caused a wave across sports and beyond.
On Twitter, Mr. Nicklaus spoke of his anguish and that of his wife. “Barbara and I just heard about Tiger’s accident, and like everyone else, we are deeply concerned.” Nicklaus post says. “We want to offer her our sincere support and prayers during this difficult time. Please join us in wishing Tiger successful surgery and the best for a full recovery.
Justin Thomas, a trusted confidant of Mr. Woods who frequently joins him for pre-tournament practice sessions, appeared stunned by the news.
“I have a stomach ache,” Thomas said As he prepares for the Workday Championship, a PGA Tour event in central Florida is scheduled to begin on Thursday. “It hurts to see one of your closest friends have an accident. I just hope he’s okay. I’m just worried about her kids, I’m sure they’re struggling.
The incident occurred around 7 a.m. PT, near the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, a coastal Los Angeles suburb, on a twisty, twisty stretch where the speed limit is 45 mph Two days earlier, Mr. Woods had hosted a PGA Tour Event at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles and stayed on to record a promotional spot for Golf Digest.
Mr Woods was traveling at “above normal speed” but did not appear weakened, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a press conference, adding that “there was no effort to draw blood, for example, in the hospital. “
Mr Woods lost control of the vehicle on Hawthorne Boulevard, hitting a sidewalk and a tree before driving several times, the sheriff said.
“This area has a high frequency of accidents,” Mr. Villanueva said. “It’s not uncommon.”
With 82 PGA Tour wins, Mr. Woods is tied with Sam Snead for most.
But Mr. Woods has been hampered by injuries in recent years. He had five major back surgeries and three knee surgeries, which derailed his ability to compete for years at a time.
His injuries in the car crash would appear to create a substantial obstacle to returning to full form, a prospect already questioned ahead of the April Masters.
In 2009, at the height of a career in which Mr. Woods was set to smash all records in his sport, reports of serial marital infidelity cost him his marriage and he was shunned by many golfers. In quick succession, his myriad of corporate sponsors let him down. The scandal led him to take a long break from golf. When he returned to competition, he struggled to regain his old form, a complication that coincided with the onset of his physical ailments.
On the same golf courses where he had long been greeted with wild cheers, his presence met rather an eerie calm. Over time, being snubbed was far from Mr. Woods’ only problem at tournaments. He was often seen as lame after the fact. A young breed of golfers now controlled the top of the rankings.
Her fall ultimately had a defining act, an arrest in the middle of the night in May 2017 that revealed an opioid addiction. Mr Woods was taken into police custody after he was found alone and asleep in his car on the side of a road with the engine running.
Typical of his career arc, Mr. Woods’ resurrection ended up being just as dramatic and captivating.
At the 2019 Masters, golf’s most watched event, Mr. Woods was not one of the pre-tournament favorites to win, but he did become a contender for the final round. In the crucible of the event’s final holes, as his rivals faded under the pressure, Mr. Woods found the inner resolve that had been his hallmark. He managed four of the last five holes to win his fifth Masters title. When his final putt fell, he celebrated with a primitive scream that seemed to be matched by the thousands of fans circling the 18th green.
Just two years earlier, Mr. Woods ranked as low as 1,119th in the world. His comeback, especially given his struggles off the course, was perhaps the biggest in the history of the sport.
Leaving the green, Mr. Woods lifted his son, Charlie, and daughter, Sam, into his arms – a gesture that was a near-repetition of the hug Mr. Woods’ father, Earl, had given his son after the 1997 Masters, M. Woods’ first big win.
He continued to be competitive with his peers in 2019, winning another event, but the pandemic-shortened 2020 golf season took place with Mr Woods often absent. Other than a tie for ninth in mid-January, he didn’t finish higher than a tie for 37th and appeared in only 10 events.
Mr. Woods has not played competitively since December. In January, he had a procedure on his back called a microdiscectomy, which was performed to remove a fragment of a pressurized disc that was pinching a nerve. On Sunday, while hosting the Genesis Invitational PGA Tour event in Southern California, Mr. Woods was interviewed during the tournament broadcast. He said he had started training and seemed at ease, smiling and joking with CBS announcers about his progress since the recent surgery. But he offered no timetable for his return to competitive golf.
The Masters, however, have remained central to Mr. Woods’ schedule. When asked if he would be attending the event in April, Mr. Woods replied, “God, I hope so. I have to get there first. He added that he “felt good, a little stiff” and was waiting for another MRI to assess his progress. In the meantime, he said, he was “still doing the mundane things you need to do for rehab, the little things before you can start to turn to something a little more.
Mr Woods admitted that surgeons may have had many other ways to help him. “It’s the only back I have,” he said. “I don’t have much more leeway there.”
At the Masters delayed by the pandemic in November, Mr Woods was tied for 38th place. Following the final round of the event, he said of his physical ailments: “No matter how hard I try, things just don’t work out the way they used to. And no matter how much I push and ask this body, it just doesn’t work sometimes.
At the Rolling Hills Country Club near Los Angeles on Monday, photos on social media showed Mr. Woods interacting with various celebrities, including former NBA player Dwyane Wade. While on duty, Mr. Woods gave players golf tips and instructions, but he did not swing a golf club.
Douglas Morino, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Alan Blinder, Kevin Draper and Gillian R. Brassil contributed reporting.