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Tiger Woods crash: Golf legend’s injuries which put his career in doubt

Tiger Woods is recovering in hospital today after shattering his right leg in a horror car crash in Los Angeles – leaving serious doubts over whether he will ever return to professional sport.

Surgeons say the 45-year-old suffered ‘comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones’ in the crash – meaning his shin and calf bones splintered into more than two pieces each and were left sticking through the skin.

Woods also sustained ‘additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle’, his doctors said, which had to be stabilized with screws and pins.

The leg itself is being held together with a metal rod that was inserted into his tibia bone, the doctors added, along with metal pins to hold everything in place.

Membranes around his muscles were also cut to help ease severe swelling caused by the impact. Anish Mahajan, who is overseeing Woods’ care, described the injuries as ‘serious’ and was unable to say if he will play golf again.   

Medical experts have warned Woods might never regain full mobility and said he was just one hour away from having his leg amputated following the horror crash.

The first deputy on the scene said Woods did not realize ‘how gravely injured he was’ as he was cut from his Genesis GV80 SUV after it rolled multiple times. 

The horror crash comes just days after Woods spoke of his hopes to be ready to compete in the first major of the year in April.

The 15-time major winner has had a career filled with remarkable comebacks and was returning to the sport after back injuries but now faces his toughest road to recovery of all.  

Tiger Woods has shattered the bones in his lower right leg and damaged his ankle and foot in a horror car crash in LA, forcing surgeons to insert a metal rod, pins and screws to hold the limb together

Police said the golfer was 'lucky to be alive' after he hit a raised central reservation while driving at high speed, smashed through a wooden street sign, splintered a tree, and then rolled his car several times

Police said the golfer was ‘lucky to be alive’ after he hit a raised central reservation while driving at high speed, smashed through a wooden street sign, splintered a tree, and then rolled his car several times

A straight line cut across the windscreen showed where first responders had sliced open the car to free Woods

A straight line cut across the windscreen showed where first responders had sliced open the car to free Woods

The 15-time major winner has had a career filled with remarkable comebacks and was returning to the sport after back injuries but now faces his toughest road to recovery of all. Woods during the second round of The Memorial Tournament on July 17, 2020 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio

The 15-time major winner has had a career filled with remarkable comebacks and was returning to the sport after back injuries but now faces his toughest road to recovery of all. Woods during the second round of The Memorial Tournament on July 17, 2020 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio

Dr. John Torres, NBC News Senior Medical Correspondent, said the ‘big concern was amputation’ and that if Woods hadn’t undergone emergency surgery within around an hour of the crash he could have lost his right leg. 

‘When it comes to emergencies with leg injuries, what happens is the pressure starts building up because of swelling and that part of the leg and that builds up to such a high point that it cuts of circulation and causes nerve damage if it’s not taken care of quickly,’ Torres said on the Today show Wednesday.

‘So what surgeons do is they go in and they basically release that pressure by opening up the muscle exposing it to the outside so they have a way to relieve the pressure and that lets the circulation flow, that lets the nerve not be damaged.

‘That’s the true emergency there behind everything that’s happened to Tiger.’

Torres said speed was critical in this scenario: ‘The big concern was amputation. As if they don’t have that done quickly – I mean within an hour or so – that could mean an amputation of that leg.’

The medic said the statement released by Woods’ medical team at Harbor-UCLA ‘doesn’t sound good and it is not good for his recovery’.

Woods’ ankle injury is of particular concern, he said, as it limits mobility and extends the recovery time. 

The recovery period is around six weeks for a typical fracture ‘but if you look at the fractures he’s got multiple fractures to the leg, also fractures to the foot and the ankle,’ he said.

Medical experts have warned Woods might never regain full mobility and said he was just one hour away from having his leg amputated following the horror crash

Medical experts have warned Woods might never regain full mobility and said he was just one hour away from having his leg amputated following the horror crash

The first deputy on the scene said Woods did not realize 'how gravely injured he was' as he was cut from his Genesis GV80 SUV after it rolled multiple times

The first deputy on the scene said Woods did not realize ‘how gravely injured he was’ as he was cut from his Genesis GV80 SUV after it rolled multiple times

‘Depending on what they have to do to the ankle that’s going to be the hard recovery period so he’s going to get the usual post-recovery from a fracture muscle atrophy, having to learn to go back and walk again, to build up that muscle, that’s going to take a few months.

‘But if he had to get that ankle fused or if he had any big procedures done to the ankle they’re going to limit mobility. That’s going to take longer to recover.’

Torres added: ‘He truly might never get that mobility back he had before which could definitely impact the way he plays.’

It is not clear if the mounting doubt of a career comeback has sunk in yet for Woods as he lies in his hospital recovering, but the first deputy on the scene has said the sports star did not realize how serious his injuries were when he found him.

Deputy Carlos Gonzalez of the LA County Sheriff’s Department told the Today show Woods didn’t mention any injuries when he reached him and held him in conversation until he was cut from the vehicle. 

‘I don’t think he was aware of how gravely injured he was at the time,’ Gonzalez said.

‘It could be a mixture of adrenaline, it occlude have been shock. Again it was so quick from the moment I arrived from the moment he rolled over so I don’t know if he had time to fully assess his injuries.’

The deputy said he had seen many crashes that looked less horrific from the outset but where the victims were more gravely injured, adding that he believes the seatbelt and air bags prevented Woods ending up in a more serious condition.   

‘This accident was traumatic in many ways. I think there was a lot of energy that went into the speeds that made the vehicle travel the distance it did,’ he said. 

‘The fact that it rolled. I think the injuries that Mr. Woods sustained and I’ve seen collisions that didn’t look as serious where the occupants were injured much more severely but I think that’s just a testament to that he was wearing a seatbelt, the airbags worked as intended and modern vehicles are much more safe than they ever used to be’

Gonzalez also said there was ‘no signs of impairment’ from alcohol or medication when he arrived on the scene. The cause of the crash remains unknown. 

Tiger Woods looked exhausted in a TV interview days before his horror crash on Tuesday in which he shattered his ankle and fractured his leg

Tiger Woods looked exhausted in a TV interview days before his horror crash on Tuesday in which he shattered his ankle and fractured his leg

Just two days before Tuesday’s crash, Woods spoke to CBS Sports about his comeback dreams after undergoing his fifth back surgery.

He told host Jim Nantz Sunday he was hopeful of being ready to compete in the Masters in April.

He said: ‘God I hope so, I’ve got to get there first.

‘A lot of it is based on my surgeons, my doctors, my therapists, and making sure that I do it correctly because this is the only back I’ve got, so I don’t know how much wiggle room we’ve left here.’

However Woods was already uncertain about the reality of this happening, admitting he was unsure if would be able to play a tournament before the major tournament.

‘I don’t know what the plan is,’ he said. ‘The plan is to just go and get an MRI scan and to see if we are healed and then we can start progressing.’

Woods – one of the most successful golfers of all time and arguably one of the greatest sportsmen in any discipline – has a long history of injuries, and overcoming them has become something of a trademark.

But this recovery will be his greatest challenge yet and has left some questioning not only his sporting future, but whether he will be able to pick up a club even as an amateur. 

Woods history of injuries dates back to at least 2008 when he famously claimed victory at the US Open despite playing with two stress fractures and a torn ligament in his left leg, which required surgery the day after his win.

Continuing problems with his leg and damage to his elbow forced him to take several breaks from golf over the next few years, until he began suffering back problems in August 2013.

While Woods played through the pain for months, he eventually ruled himself out of The Masters in 2014 – the first time in his career that he had missed the tournament – so he could have surgery on a trapped nerve.

Despite the operation, Woods’ problems persisted and in September the following year he went for more surgery – followed rapidly by another operation in October which left him facing a ‘long and tedious’ recovery.

In April the following year he underwent yet more surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his spine together which left him on painkillers which eventually led to him being found slumped over the wheel of his car.

Woods' history of injuries dates back to at least 2008 when he famously won the US Open despite playing with two stress fractures and ligament damage in his left leg that required immediate surgery after his victory

Woods’ history of injuries dates back to at least 2008 when he famously won the US Open despite playing with two stress fractures and ligament damage in his left leg that required immediate surgery after his victory

Woods had two of his vertebrae fused together in 2017 - an operation that left him on painkillers and saw him arrested for DUI (pictured). He later went into rehab for painkiller addiction

Woods had two of his vertebrae fused together in 2017 – an operation that left him on painkillers and saw him arrested for DUI (pictured). He later went into rehab for painkiller addiction

In one of the greatest comebacks in sport, Woods claimed victory at The Masters in 2019 - his 15th major title - though his injury woes persisted and he had back surgery again in December last year

In one of the greatest comebacks in sport, Woods claimed victory at The Masters in 2019 – his 15th major title – though his injury woes persisted and he had back surgery again in December last year

Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo of England during the final round of the 1997 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1997 in Augusta, Georgia

Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo of England during the final round of the 1997 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1997 in Augusta, Georgia

Overcoming doubts that he would ever be able to swing a club again, Woods battled to return to professional golf and made his first appearance at the Hero World Challenge in December 2018.

Against all the odds, he then went on to win his 15th major title at The Masters the following April in one of the greatest comebacks in sport.

But his injury problems persisted, and in August he had to undergo surgery to repair damage to his elbow. In March 2020 he was forced to sit out the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship with back issues.

In December last year he quietly underwent another procedure on his back, which was announced to the public in January this year.

Breaking the news to fans, Woods did not set a timetable for his return to golf and was still recovering from the surgery at the time of his latest accident.

‘As if his body hasn’t endured enough,’ Jon Rahm, the No. 2 player in the world, said from the Workday Championship in Florida on Tuesday after learning of the crash. 

‘I just hope he can get out of the hospital after recovery and he can still play with his kids and have a normal life.’ 

What next for Tiger Woods following horrific car crash? 

Tiger Woods faces the biggest fight of his career after undergoing surgery on “significant” right leg injuries following a car crash in Los Angeles.

Here, the PA news agency examines whether the 15-time major champion can recover and challenge at the top of world golf again.

What happened? 

Woods was involved in a single-vehicle accident at 7.18 local time on the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes in southern Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. The car crossed the centre-divider and rested down an embankment several hundred feet away. Firefighters had to use a pry bar and an axe as Woods was “extricated from the wreck”. Woods suffered “open fractures affecting the tibia and fibula bones” in his lower right leg “stabilised by inserting a rod into the tibia”. Injuries to his foot and ankle were stabilised with screws and pins.

Can Woods launch another comeback? 

Now 45, the American’s body has been creaking for some time. Woods took a two-month lay-off in April 2008 to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the cartilage in his left knee and it has been a struggle pretty much ever since. Multiple back operations and reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament have slowly reduced Woods’ power and the domination that brought him 14 majors before his 33rd birthday. Woods became golf’s comeback king when he won his 15th major title – the 2019 Masters at Augusta National – following back fusion surgery in April 2017. But his LA car accident comes while he was already in recuperation from December surgery to remove a pressurised disc fragment in his back. 

So what happens next?

Months of rehabilitation, for sure. Woods had been hoping to play in the Masters at Augusta in April after undergoing back surgery for a fifth time. He gave an interview as recently as Sunday saying “I’m feeling fine – I’m a little stiff”, but indicated his ambition to tee it up. With the major calendar condensed between April and July, it is almost certain that Woods’ hopes of winning a 16th major title in 2021 are over. Woods will turn 46 in December and remains three short of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 wins. The oldest winner of any major is 48-year-old Julius Boros, and only Boros, Nicklaus and Old Tom Morris have won majors at 46 or older. 

Can he win another major?

After all that’s happened to him you have to say it’s unlikely. But this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about and it would be foolish to write him off. He has already come back once to stun the sporting world and has always had unrivalled self-belief and self-determination to win. But the injuries will take some time to heal and it remains unclear what effect they will have on his game. The game has also moved on with big-hitters like Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy leaving Woods a long way behind off the tee, taking away one advantage he used to have over most of the field. But Woods will no doubt take inspiration from Ben Hogan. He has previously cited Hogan’s recovery from a near-fatal car crash to win six of his nine major titles, including all three he could contest in 1953, as the greatest comeback in golf. 

So what could the future hold?

Woods has never appeared as comfortable in a media booth as on the driving range or the putting green. Even in his weekend television interview, at the Genesis Invitational tournament which he hosted, he looked distanced and distracted. So punditry might not hold any interest or come easy. Woods was the United States’ Presidents Cup captain in Australia in 2019 and has been seen as a future Ryder Cup captain. Woods’ son Charlie is a promising junior player and he will no doubt shape the 12-year-old’s future career. The pair competed at the PNC Championship in Orlando last December. Woods has been voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and will be inducted in March 2022. 


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