Lucky to be alive, Tiger Woods faces difficult recovery
In a career filled with remarkable comebacks, Tiger Woods faces perhaps his toughest recovery of all.
The golf star was driving alone on a sweeping, downhill stretch of road through coastal Los Angeles suburbs when his SUV struck a raised median, crossed into oncoming lanes and flipped several times. The crash caused “significant” injuries to Woods' right leg, and he underwent what was described as a “long surgical procedure” at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer, said Woods shattered bones in his lower leg in multiple places. Some of his fractures went through the skin and were stabilized by a rod, while screws and pins were used for his ankle and foot injuries.
A statement on Woods' Twitter account said he was awake and recovering.
“I will say that it’s very fortunate that Mr. Woods was able to come out of this alive,” said Carlos Gonzalez, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was the first to arrive after a neighbor called 911.
Police said there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday on a Facebook livestream that it was “purely an accident" on a downhill section of road known for crashes.
Dr. Joseph Patterson, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, said injuries like Woods' are among the most common seen in emergency rooms.
Patterson didn’t treat Woods and wouldn’t comment specifically about the golfer’s injuries but said the risk of infection is extremely high for patients with fractures that break the skin.
“Tissue can be exposed to bacteria, dirt and clothing. The outcomes can be a lot worse if that tissue gets infected,” Patterson said. Such open fractures can require multiple surgeries to repair.
Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith suffered an open fracture to his lower leg while being tackled. He nearly lost the leg due to infection but made a remarkable recovery and played last season.
The crash was the latest setback for Woods, who at times has looked unstoppable with his 15 major championships and record-tying 82 victories on the PGA Tour. He is among the world's most recognizable sports figures, and at 45, with a reduced schedule from nine previous surgeries, remains golf’s biggest draw.
He won the 2008 U.S. 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.
And then after four back surgeries that kept him out of golf for the better part of 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 he plays again - the Masters is seven weeks away - but if he plays again.
Woods was in Los Angeles over the weekend as the tournament host of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. Monday and Tuesday had been set aside for Woods to give golf tips to celebrities on Discovery-owned GOLFTV. A tweet Monday showed him in a cart with comedian David Spade. He also worked with NBA great Dwyane Wade, who posted a video on Instagram.
“It was a great day,” Wade said Tuesday night on Turner Sports, where he is a studio analyst. “And I woke up today so proud to be able to post that moment for the world, like a little snippet of our moment together. And I took a nap, and I woke up to the news. So, you know, just like everybody out there, my thoughts and prayers are all to his loved ones.”
They have come from everywhere - Jack Nicklaus and Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Woods played golf with both presidents, and Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019.
Woods had a fifth back surgery, a microdiscectomy, on Dec. 23, just three days after he played the PNC Championship with his son Charlie, who now is 12. Woods also has a 13-year-old daughter, Samantha.
Woods was driving his courtesy vehicle from the Genesis Invitational when he crashed. Gonzalez, the deputy, does traffic enforcement on the road and said he sometimes catches people topping 80 mph (129 kph) in the downhill, 45-mph zone. Crashes are common.
Police said Woods was alert as firefighters pried open the front windshield to get him out. The sheriff says the airbags deployed and the inside of the SUV stayed mostly intact, which “gave him a cushion to survive the crash.”
Villanueva said Wednesday that the department hasn’t yet pulled information from the vehicle's event data recorder, or “black box," which would give details about speed and could be a factor.
In 2017, Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of a car parked awkwardly on the side of the road. He was arrested on a DUI charge and said he had an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine for his back pain. Woods later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and checked into a clinic to get help with prescription medication and a sleep disorder.
Woods hasn’t won since the Zozo Championship in Japan in fall 2019, and he’s reduced his playing schedule in recent years because of injuries. Besides his five back surgeries, he’s had four surgeries on his left knee.
By STEFANIE DAZIO AND DOUG FERGUSON
Ferguson reported from Jacksonville, Florida. AP writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed.
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