Tiger Woods accident update: Golfing future in question amid long road to full health, complete recovery


Specifics on Tiger Woods’ injuries suffered during a car crash were disclosed late Tuesday evening, and the immediate reaction was two-fold. The first question: “What does that mean?” The second added just three words: “… for his future?”

There are two separate tracks to discuss here, and though they are not equivalent in importance, they are both still meaningful. Tiger Woods the human obviously far outweighs Tiger Woods the golfer, but the context we all know him by is on the golf course, and whatever happens with him in the future in that specific context is not unimportant.

Tiger’s 45-year-old body has already undergone serious trauma over the course of his life. Five back surgeries and countless operations on his knee have left us with a man who is not as whole as many 45-year-old men. To stack a car crash of this magnitude on top of all of that is to put an unfathomable weight on a set of shoulders that have known plenty of unfathomable weights.

On Tuesday evening, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center chief medical officer Anish Mahajan provided details on Tiger’s severe injuries and surgery. Woods’ right leg seemingly endured the lion’s share of the crash, and a rod was placed in his tibia as a result. That in and of itself would be monumental, but it was not even close to all the damage. The injury was also open, which means that Tiger’s bone broke through the skin of his body. His right ankle was also shattered.

Furthermore, a fasciotomy had to be performed to “relieve pressure due to swelling.” This means that the soft tissue injury to Woods was severe and there was concern about something called compartment syndrome. If this pressure starts to build from swelling, it can lead to “irreversible muscle and tissue damage” or even the loss of a limb. So the sheath surrounding his muscles had to be cut to relieve this pressure and will likely be left open for several days.

Dr. Michael Zuri, a doctor of podiatric medicine and board-certified physician who specializes in sports injuries, explained the severity of what Woods underwent Tuesday.

“He’s going to have multiple surgeries over the next week or two,” said Zuri. “This is definitely of a limb-threatening nature. Do I think he’ll lose his leg? Probably not. … The next week is crucial. Infection is a major concern. … I would say a month is when they’ll kind of know what’s going on as long as he doesn’t have a bone infection or soft tissue complication. This is a tenuous thing for a while.”

The encouraging part is that, in the absence of infection, it’s not crazy to think that Tiger could make his way back to a normal life. But to play golf again at an elite level? It’s almost completely out of the question.

“Even if the leg heals, all the bones heal, everything heals, he’s going to be dealing with arthritis from this,” said Zuri. “These type of crush ankle injuries, if it’s the ankle that was shattered as well, those have a high percentage of arthritis within a five-year period. It’s likely for him he might need an ankle replacement. He’s going to have multiple surgeries over the next year and probably surgery in 10 years. This is going to be a long, long thing for him. These types of multi-traumas to the leg are just devastating.”

“Learning to walk here is going to be a big step forward,” added Dr. Agus, a USC professor of medicine who was interviewed Wednesday on CBS Sports HQ. “Obviously, this is Tiger Woods. He is going to recover from this. He’ll do a lot more than just walking, but it will take time.”

While everyone points to the fact that Alex Smith — who also suffered multiple breaks to his leg — made it all the way back as a NFL quarterback after nearly losing that limb, Zuri said the two injuries are not exactly the same.

“Alex Smith’s injury was bad, but this appears to be a lot more severe, in my opinion,” said Zuri. “Alex Smith’s main complication was the infection. Tiger’s injury is worse than Alex Smith.”

So where does that leave us on Day 2 of a seemingly endless road ahead? Just like the last 10 years, there are encouraging signs, but the overall outlook is not optimistic, especially as it relates to golf. While there is a road to recovery, a path back to Tiger becoming a semi-broken but at least functional human being and father, visions of him winning (or even playing in) golf tournaments in the future are a fantasy.

“He’s a human being at the end of the day,” said Rory McIlroy on Wednesday. “And he’s already been through so much. At this stage, I think everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad. That’s the most important thing. Golf is so far from the equation right now, it’s not even on the map at this point.”

The allure of him walking Ben Hogan’s footsteps — either literally or figuratively — when Hogan recovered from a near-fatal car wreck in 1949 to win four more major championships is, at best, disillusionment. The reality is clear and stark at this point in time. Tiger will consider himself lucky just to stand on the first tee at Augusta National ever again, let alone to ever walk her hills. 





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