Car crash is the latest test of Tiger Woods’ resilience

The wreckage of the SUV carrying Tiger Woods is stark testimony to the force of the Tuesday crash in the Rancho Palos Verdes section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
The wreckage of the SUV carrying Tiger Woods is stark testimony to the force of the Tuesday crash in the Rancho Palos Verdes section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu

Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu

Now the only thing to do is stand by. All the sports world is a waiting room, filled with those nervously pacing and hoping for any good word on the status of Tiger Woods after his Tuesday morning single-car accident.

As Jack Nicklaus, the only player who outranks Woods in golf, tweeted in part Tuesday, “Please join us in wishing Tiger a successful surgery and all the best for a full recovery.”

Just a day ago we were concerned only about whether the 45-year-old Woods would be sound enough after another spinal surgery to play in April’s Masters. That’s so back page now. Put such relative trivia aside to make room for questions about his much longer-term health and golfing career.

In a statement, the Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, who oversees the little tournament Woods has won five times, said, “Tiger Woods is part of the Augusta National family, and the news of his accident is upsetting to all of us. We pray for him, for his full recovery and for his family during this difficult time.”

Did you see the photos of his wrecked car? The one that careened off what seemed from a distance to be a benign, tree-shaded California four-lane shortly after 7 a.m. their time Tuesday? The front end of the SUV in which Woods was the sole occupant was savaged, a crumbled wad of metal where the engine used to be. The damage appeared grotesquely exaggerated in relation to the setting.

Initial reports indicated his injuries were not life-threatening, so for that, thanks. Count him extremely fortunate. His agent told of injuries to both legs, requiring surgery at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Speaking from this week’s PGA Tour stop in Florida just minutes after learning of the crash, Justin Thomas said, “I’m sick to my stomach. You know, it hurts to see now one of my closest friends get in an accident. Man, I just hope he’s all right. Just worry for his kids, you know. I’m sure they’re struggling.”

The reaction to the accident was further proof of how the brilliance of Woods transcends golf. His 15 major championships – second in bulk to only Jack Nicklaus – and 82 PGA Tour victories – second to no one – are only part of the story. He changed the very face of golf racially and culturally. That is why when this player rolls his courtesy SUV, it is more than a sports story; it is one that prompts even CNN to bump the political blather for his breaking news.

“The ’97 Masters (Woods’ first major, won in record-smashing fashion) changed the course of my life, course of my career,” Tony Finau, a player of Tongan and Samoan descent, told reporters in Florida. “Without that event I probably wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be playing golf, so he definitely changed the course of my life, my career. I think I’m one of hundreds of guys out here probably that would say the same thing. He means a lot to the game, but individually I think he means a lot to us just individually, especially for me.”

At the same time, Tuesday was another pointed reminder of just how star-crossed and complicated the greater sweep of Woods’ story really is. The golf always has been the easy part for him to master. But standing between him and the first tee has been a series of mishaps and imperfections, many of his own making.

His marital infidelities became an embarrassing media bonfire. His body began rebelling against all that he asked of it in a quest to be the strength leader in the clubhouse, showing up in a series of knee and back issues. In 2017, two years before he would claim his fifth Masters in a stirring comeback from spinal-fusion surgery, his use of prescription pain medication because of that very back problem reportedly led to a DUI arrest and probation. Now we await the forensics on this puzzling morning crash outside Los Angeles.

If there is any encouragement Woods can take from history, it’s that he is not the first golfing great to face a long, hard slog back from a devastating wreck. Ben Hogan made it back.

On a foggy, icy Texas road during the drive home from a tournament in Arizona in 1949, Hogan, who was 36 at the time, and his wife collided with a Greyhound bus. He took the worst of it, suffering a broken pelvis, ankle and collarbone. Blood clots complicated his recovery. Yet 16 months later, he won the U.S. Open. And in 1953, he won the last three of his nine major titles.

The comeback is woven all through the Woods saga, sadly enough. There must be a limit to how often that theme plays, even for Woods. Can he possibly have one more in him?

We’ll just leave it here with a wish: how grand it would be to see him in Sunday red and black at the 2022 Masters.

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