File image: Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the PNC Championship golf tournament in Orlando, Florida in December 2020. (Image: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
Lying in his bed at Cedars Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, Tiger Woods will gain some solace from the words of a man who knows golf as well as medicine.
Many doubt that Woods, 45, will be able to play optimally after his potentially fatal car crash on February 23, which left him with severe injuries on his lower right leg.
But Bill Mallon, a former PGA Tour golfer and orthopedic surgeon, is optimistic.
“My suspicion is — and I’m dealing here with incomplete information — if he doesn’t get an infection in his leg and he doesn’t get arthritis in his ankle, I think he will definitely play golf again,” Mallon told The Washington Post.
Mallon also felt that it was preferable for a right-handed golfer like Woods to suffer greater damage to his right leg, since the left is more important for transferring bodyweight while hitting the ball.
However, another seasoned surgeon said that golf, for now, could not even be on the radar for the winner of 15 majors.
“Golf is immaterial,” David L. Helfet, orthopedic trauma surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, told The Post. “This is not a one-surgery [condition]. This is a multiple-surgery [condition].”
Helfet, who has four decades of experience as a doctor, also said, “The risk of an injury like this is not necessarily lifesaving; it’s limb-saving. And the sooner you get the patient into a trauma centre, the better. To get one of these injuries healed — the bone healed, the soft tissues recovered, [and] assuming there’s no nerve and artery damage and the muscle is recoverable, you’re talking about, until he can walk and put weight on his leg and actually have function, two to three months, at least.”
Woods lost control of his SUV while speeding down a steep slope on Hawthorne Boulevard, near Los Angeles. The road is considered accident prone and has a speed limit of 45mph. Woods was on his way to a shoot. According to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Woods was going at a "relatively greater speed than normal" when his car hit a median, crushed a wooden ‘Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates’ sign and rolled over several times. The first responder to the spot said Woods was lucky to be alive.
The mishap is another crisis for one of the world’s most recognisable athletes, who lost his grip on the sport and his life after revelations of serial philandering in 2009. It cost him his marriage and reputation. (An SUV was a feature in that saga too).
In 2019, when Woods won the Augusta Masters, his first major in 11 years, it seemed he had put his injuries and the impact of his divorce behind him. That one win generated publicity worth around $23.6 million for his corporate partners, according to sponsorship analytics firm Apex Marketing Group. Such is Woods’ drawing power.
For a brief while, fans and sponsors rejoiced over the return of the sport’s biggest star and cash magnet. Even if his health issues prevented more wins at the majors, just having Tiger around in the game was something to be thankful for.
Two years on, Woods faces another steep climb up from the ditch. He already has chronic back woes. On December 23, he underwent his fifth back operation.
“This is the only back I've got; I don't have much more wiggle room left,” he said in an interview two days before his crash. Now it has shrunk even further.