The heights Tiger Woods has already scaled will provide strength but little consolation as the greatest golfer in a generation recovers from a crash that shook southern Los Angeles and reverberated around the world on Tuesday. The full circumstances of the accident, which required Woods to undergo emergency surgery, are yet to be determined, but the image of his wrecked, upturned car on a dusty embankment marked another chaotic chapter in a career that was already bookended by spectacular triumphs.
It was only two years ago that Woods, in defiance of all medical prognoses, rolled back the stone at Augusta and sat atop his old world. After overcoming such a physical toll, returning to that pinnacle seemed to provide a form of closure for the 15-time major champion. But the cost of Woods’ sporting superiority has often been punctuating moments of horror and sadness.
It is a feat of terrible coincidence that Woods’ worst ordeals have all occurred in traffic accidents. In 2009, the revelation of his infidelities culminated in Woods crashing his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant; the spectacle now synonymous with the disintegration of his carefully crafted public image. In 2017, while recovering from spinal fusion surgery, Woods was discovered asleep at the wheel on an empty Florida backstreet and his addiction to painkillers was laid bare in public.
Before Tuesday’s crash, Woods was recovering from a fifth back operation and admitted only on Sunday that thoughts of a comeback stretched no further than an upcoming MRI scan. “This is the only back I’ve got, I don’t have much more wiggle room left,” he said.
Any hopes of returning to Augusta in April are now utterly obsolete. After the LA County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Woods’ injuries were “moderate to critical” but “not life-threatening”, adding that he was “lucky to survive”, a surgeon revealed that the 45-year-old has suffered multiple fractures to his right leg as well as bone damage to the foot and ankle, requiring “a combination of screws and pins”.
For all his immense fame, Woods yearns for privacy and solitude - so much so that they form the names of his yachts. And while past indiscretions have been self-inflicted, this misery and media circus is the cruellest turn of fate. Not just because of the agony and litany of operations he has already endured, but the harmony he finally seemed to have found. When Woods won at Augusta, the spiteful aura of old faded into something warmer, and even emotional. He joked with fellow players and smiled in moments of overwhelming tension. The fearsome guard he once put up was no more present than the black hole he left during those long months when simply walking was a source of relief.
There is no use yet speculating on whether Woods will play golf again. Before the whispers of another comeback, there will be arduous recuperation, with the support of his family. Woods’ most recent outing on the golf course was playing with his son, Charlie, in a tournament in December and those are the memories that will provide solace.
For now, all that can be guaranteed is that Woods will treat this new trial of convalescence with old courage. Throughout his entire career, he has pushed beyond the limitations of his body. It is the precise quality that has always made him such a remarkable champion, ever since his epoch-defining victory at The Masters in 1997, when the entire golfing world began to orbit around him. During all the sustained highs and volatile lows since, it has never stopped revolving around Tiger Woods. And if history tells us one thing, it is that we should never doubt the well of resilience he has already emptied on so many occasions.
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