Tiger Woods may never play professional golf again after the high-speed car accident that left him with extensive injuries to his right leg and ankle.
Woods had “a long surgical procedure” at the Harbour-UCLA Medical Centre following the lone-vehicle crash in the suburbs of Los Angeles on Tuesday morning (local time).
The hospital’s chief medical officer said the 15-time major winner had open fractures after shattering his tibia and fibula bones.
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Joseph Patterson said Woods’ recovery could take “months to years” and “may not complete”.
“The injury to Tiger’s legs involves upper and lower portions of the tibia, his shinbone, the ankle and his foot. That means his ankle joints, the essential joints in his foot and possibly his knee may be affected,” Dr Patterson said.
“If these fractures involve the surfaces of those joints, meaning the cartilage and other tissues, his joints are at risk for deteriorating a little quicker than they otherwise.”
Woods was driving alone on a sweeping, downhill stretch of road through coastal suburbs of Los Angeles on Tuesday when his four-wheel-drive struck a sign, crossed over two oncoming lanes and flipped several times before coming to rest on its side, its airbags deployed.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Carlos Gonzalez poked his head through a hole in the windscreen to see Woods, still wearing his seatbelt, in the driver’s seat. A dazed Woods was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery.
“I will say that it’s very fortunate that Mr Woods was able to come out of this alive,” Deputy Gonzalez said.
No charges were filed, and police said there was no evidence Woods was impaired.
On Wednesday (Australian time), a statement on his website said the golfing great was “responsive and recovering in his hospital room” following the operation. The fractures to his tibia and fibula and further injuries to his foot and ankle were stabilised with a rod, screws and pins.
The severity of the injuries has raised questions about whether Woods will be able to return to competitive action. But fellow champion Rory McIlroy said those thoughts should not be “even on the map at this point”.
“He’s not Superman, he’s a human being at the end of the day and he’s already been through so much so at this stage everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad,” said McIlroy, who is preparing for the World Golf Championship event in Florida.
“Golf is so far from the equation right now. It’s not even on the map at this point.
Asked if Woods, who was already sidelined following a fifth back operation, could recover, McIlroy said:
“I think we’re all sort of heading towards that day that Tiger wasn’t going to be a part of the game. I’m not saying that that was soon. Before this accident, he was rehabbing a back injury and hopefully going to come back and play this year.
World No.1 Dustin Johnson, though, was still hoping that Woods could complete a Ben Hogan-style return to the game.
Hogan famously recovered from a near-fatal car crash with a bus in 1949 to win six of his nine major titles, including three in 1953.
“Hate to see the news about Tiger. Wishing him a quick recovery and a Ben Hogan style comeback. If anyone can do it, it’s TW,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
The crash was the latest setback for Woods, who at times has looked unstoppable on the golf course with his 15 major championships and record-tying 82 victories on the PGA Tour.
He is among the most recognisable sports figures in the world, and at 45 with a reduced schedule from nine previous surgeries, remains golf’s biggest draw.
He won the 2008 US Open with shredded knee ligaments and two stress fractures in his left leg.
His personal life imploded on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 when he was caught having multiple extramarital affairs and crashed his vehicle near his Florida home. He returned to win his 11th award as PGA Tour player of the year and reach No. 1.
Then, after four back surgeries that kept him out of golf for almost two years, he won the Masters in April 2019 for the fifth time, a victory that ranks among the great comebacks in the sport.
Now it’s no longer a matter of when but if he plays again.