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DEREK LAWRENSON: Even for Miracle Man Tiger Woods, another comeback seems a challenge too far

How on earth does the Miracle Man come back this time? Where’s even a glimpse of a way back to the majors and their blissful allure?

Tiger Woods emerging triumphant over malevolent twists of fate has come to define the second half of his career. It’s as if some wrathful god is upping the ante every time Tiger defies all logic.

Now, following the devastating car crash that so nearly cost him his life, the grave fear is this will prove one cruel twist too many, and cost him his final years as a player. Will that accident blackspot in the heart of Tinseltown result in a tear-jerking Hollywood ending?

Woods was involved in a horrific car crash on Tuesday, which has left him with a broken leg and a shattered ankle

He may be the Miracle Man but it’s hard to see how Tiger Woods comes back from his car crash

Police said Woods was 'lucky to be alive' after escaping the crash with a broken leg and ankle

Police said Woods was ‘lucky to be alive’ after escaping the crash with a broken leg and ankle

The only thing certain at this stage is that Tiger will not give up. In his downbeat interview with American television during the Genesis Invitational on Sunday, where his face looked bloated and his eyes filled with pain, there were four words brimming with defiance that spoke to the fire that remains within.

Asked if he thought he would be at the Masters in six weeks, following yet more back surgery, he fixed the camera with a trademark stare and replied: ‘God, I hope so.’

He can forget all about that edition now. Such is the scale of his dreadful injuries, it will be months at best before he’s even walking again. It’s the Masters in 2022 that’s become the big question. And the ones after that.

No doubt before too long he’ll be requesting Ben Hogan’s biography be delivered to his bed side – if he doesn’t know it off by heart already. It’s a grotesque coincidence that arguably the two greatest ball-strikers of all time should both have been involved in near-fatal car accidents.

In 1949, in dense fog in Texas on another fateful February day, Hogan’s vehicle struck a greyhound bus head on. In leaning over to protect his wife, Valerie, who escaped with slight injuries, Hogan took the full brunt. A fractured pelvis, collarbone and a shattered ankle were the least of it. Severe blood clots left several doctors fearing for his life. Several more told him that even if he lived, he wouldn’t walk again.

Woods overcame his adversities to claim a famous victory at the Masters back in 2019

Woods overcame his adversities to claim a famous victory at the Masters back in 2019

WHAT INJURIES DOES TIGER WOODS HAVE? 

Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer at Harbor-UCLA hospital where Woods is being treated, revealed he has suffered ‘comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones.’

That means the bones – more commonly known as the shinbone and calf bone – have splintered into more than two pieces, and have come through the skin.

Woods also suffered ‘additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle’, Mahajan said, without elaborating further.

In order to treat the injuries, Mahajan said a metal rod was inserted into Woods’ tibia which is being stabilized with rods and pins.

Additional screws and pins have been inserted into his foot and ankle, Mahajan added.

Membranes covering Woods’ leg muscles were also cut to relieve pressure in the leg from swelling, he said.

He described the injuries as ‘serious’, and could not give a prognosis or say whether Woods will be able to play golf again. 

Just over a year later, a handful of eerie miles from the scene of Tiger’s accident, Hogan won the Los Angeles Open. He played on in great pain for the rest of his career and won six more majors.

One big difference is that Hogan was 36 at the time of his accident. Woods is 45, and not a young one at that. Can the advances in medicine these past 70 years outrun the ravages of time?

What we don’t know yet is whether there’s enough left salvageable of Woods’s battered frame for the marvels of modern science to work their magic.

Looking at the mangled wreckage of his courtesy vehicle that left the road for reasons unknown and plunged down a steep incline, the first instinct was the most basic one of being thankful he survived. Now we fervently hope he’s able to walk again and play with his kids.

Alongside those natural human emotions, you can hardly blame the sporting fraternity for wondering what lies further down the road for one of the all-time greats in any game.

Woods' infamous police mug shot after being arrested on a DUI charge

His unlikely Masters win in 2019 came just two years after the incident

That unlikely triumph at the Masters came two years after Woods was arrested for DUI, reckless driving and improper stopping – his infamous police shot is seen on the left

Woods (left on Sunday) was due to meet Charges quarterback Justin Herbert (center) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Bees (right) at the Rolling Hills Country Club at 7.30am on Tuesday

Woods, pictured on Sunday, was hoping to play in the Masters this year but it will be a long time before we’ll see him play in a Major again

What’s abundantly clear already is that, even in the best-case scenario, he faces his biggest challenge of all. Far greater than winning the US Open in 2008 with one leg broken and a knee with a ruptured ACL; the public scandals of 11 years ago that left him feeling ashamed and broken for a while.

TIGER WOODS CRASH 

7am: Tiger leaves Terranea Resort looking agitated 

7.05am: Road cameras pick him up driving within the speed limit 

7.12am: Tiger crashes on Hawthorne Blv 

Neighbor calls 911 reporting crash 

7.18am: Firefighters and police arrive 

7.30am: Time he was due to be at golf club 

Greater still than resuming each time following four back surgeries, culminating with the comeback triumph we thought topped them all when he won at Augusta in 2019.

In a statement on Tiger’s website following the long hours of surgery, Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer at the hospital where Woods is being treated, detailed the graphic extent of the damage to his right leg.

‘Mr Woods suffered significant orthopaedic injuries to his lower right extremity. Comminuted (splintered) open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones were stabilized by inserting a rod into the tibia. Additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle were stabilized with a combination of screws and pins. Trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue of the leg required surgical release of the covering of the muscles to relieve pressure due to swelling.’

On American television on Wednesday, one medical emergency doctor opined that without that final procedure being completed quickly, his leg would have been amputated.

Left unspoken and perhaps currently unknown is something that could prove even more problematic than recovering full mobility in his leg. Has Woods aggravated the chronic back problem that necessitated a fifth operation just before Christmas and from which he was trying to recover in time for this year’s Masters?

The sporting icon (pictured here having cream rubbed onto his back by former caddie Steve Williams) has been plagued by injuries throughout his careers

The sporting icon (pictured here having cream rubbed onto his back by former caddie Steve Williams) has been plagued by injuries throughout his careers

If Woods never plays again, he will have left behind a highlight reel beyond compare - including this famous moment when he chipped in on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters

If Woods never plays again, he will have left behind a highlight reel beyond compare – including this famous moment when he chipped in on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters

‘There’s not much wriggle room left there,’ Woods admitted last Sunday, ahead of a scheduled MRI this week. As he lies in his hospital room, the awful truth is to wonder whether there’s now no wriggle room at all.

If Woods cannot play again, we’ll have to be grateful for the small mercy this happened towards the end of his career, and we’re left with a highlight reel beyond compare.

Woods might have fallen three majors shy of Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 but, unquestionably, he had spells where he played the greatest golf of anyone who ever lived.

If it proves to be the final tournament of his extraordinary career, let his closing six holes of the 2020 Masters last November say it all: birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie.

Time to keep fingers and everything else crossed for the Miracle Man.


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