News, Culture & Society

Tiger Woods’ history of horrific injuries: Can he somehow recover once again after years of torment?

After the shocking news emerged of Tiger Woods’ horror car crash in Los Angeles on Tuesday, there were immediately huge concerns regarding his future in the sport he has dominated for years.

As more updates started to filter through about his condition, police later confirmed that Woods was lucky to have survived the frightening crash after sustaining ‘multiple leg injuries’ that included comminuted open fractures of his tibia and fibula – where the bone splinters into two or more pieces and comes through the skin. He has had a rod inserted in his tibia, with his foot and ankle ‘stabilised with a combination of screws and pins’.

The 15-time major-winner’s Genesis GV80 had rolled over multiple times and he had to be pried from the wreckage by firefighters using a halligan tool near Rancho Palos Verdes.

Fortunately, Woods is now ‘awake and responsive’ at Harbor-UCLA hospital, but it is not yet clear what Woods’ exact prognosis is, or whether he will even be able to play golf again.

The horrific news comes just a month-and-a-half prior to the 2021 Masters at Augusta, a major Woods holds very closely to his heart. He was a doubt for the tournament anyway as he was recovering from a fifth back surgery but the car crash has utterly ruined any plans he had to return anytime soon.

The sporting icon has now sustained 20 major injuries during his illustrious career, but Woods has always been resilient in the face of adversity and emphatically bounced back time after time. 

Here, Sportsmail takes a close look at all of the major injuries sustained throughout Woods’ career, and how he has defied the odds down the years to dominate his field – even though the latest setback will for sure be his biggest challenge yet.

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

Woods' car is lifted away from the crash scene in Los Angeles. It is not yet known how it will impact his future within golf

Woods’ car is lifted away from the crash scene in Los Angeles. It is not yet known how it will impact his future within golf

Woods had been out of action after undergoing a fifth back surgery, and his appearance at the 2021 Masters was in doubt

Woods had been out of action after undergoing a fifth back surgery, and his appearance at the 2021 Masters was in doubt

The injuries sustained by Woods during the horror car crash in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning

The injuries sustained by Woods during the horror car crash in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning

Woods’ injury problems began even before he turned professional. After enrolling on a golf scholarship at Stanford University in 1994, he underwent surgery on his left knee to remove two benign tumours and scar tissue.

Fortunately for the American – who entered the professional world in 1996 – he went injury-free for the next eight years as he quickly became the sport’s most successful and commercialised athlete.

Woods would go on to win an incredible eight majors in that time, but just a few months on from his last triumph at the 2002 US PGA Championship, he was forced to have another procedure. In December, he had surgery on his left knee to remove fluid inside and outside of the ACL and remove benign cysts.

Again, Woods went on a roll without any major setbacks plaguing his golf afterwards but from 2007 more and more injuries started to creep into his game.

Woods sustained another setback in obscure fashion in 2007, rupturing his ACL in his left knee while running on a course after the Open Championship at Carnoustie. But despite the severity of the setback, he opted against surgery.

A year later and injuries were really starting to catch up with him, as he missed plenty of the 2008 season with four injuries. Two days after finishing second at the Masters, Woods had arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out cartilage. 

In May that year, he was advised by doctors to rest for six weeks, the first three on crutches as he had two stress fractures of the left tibia. 

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

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

Despite his serious injuries and absence, Woods somehow managed to limp to victory in the US Open in June, which would end up being his last major triumph in 11 years and arguably remains his greatest major victory as he winced in pain after every shot and often sank to his knees in agony. Just eight days after his victory, Woods had surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee by using a tendon from his right thigh before injuring his achilles tendon in the right knee in December.

What people didn’t know at the time was that Woods hadn’t walked 18 holes in two months, since he finished second at the Masters. He was advised not to play at the US Open by his orthopaedic doctor because he would do permanent damage, but Woods wasn’t having any of it. 

It had been an unlikely triumph for Woods, who admitted: ‘It’s my greatest ever championship. It’s the best of the 14 because of all the things that have gone on over the past week.’ 

The triumph at the US Open at Torrey Pines, which came following a play-off victory over Rocco Mediate, certainly cannot be understated given the severity of his injury. Robert Karlsson, his third-round playing partner, still can’t comprehend how he achieved the feat.

‘It is one of my greatest memories in golf and always will be,’ Karlsson told Sportsmail back in 2018. ‘The idea that a man could win a major championship while so badly injured still causes me to shake my head in wonder. By the time we got to the 17th, Tiger was struggling so badly I asked his caddie Steve Williams whether he thought he would even be able to play the final round, let alone think about winning. 

‘The way he put that third round together, the pain he went through, the two eagles he made in the last six holes from impossible places, it’s so special looking back. And the atmosphere, wow! How do you begin to describe that?’ 

The PGA’s former commissioner Tim Finchem also hailed Woods’ ability to put the agony to the back of his mind.

‘For an athlete as talented and competitive as Tiger Woods, taking the rest of the season off must have been an incredibly difficult, yet necessary decision, one that we understand and support completely,’ Finchem said in a statement days after the triumph. ‘The fact that he needs additional surgery only makes his performance and victory at last week’s US Open all the more impressive.’

Woods winces with pain due to his knee injury after a tee shot during the final round of the US Open in 2008

Woods winces with pain due to his knee injury after a tee shot during the final round of the US Open in 2008

But despite the severity of his injury, Woods defied the odds to win the US Open after he was initially told not to play

But despite the severity of his injury, Woods defied the odds to win the US Open after he was initially told not to play

Woods seemed like Superman on that Monday afternoon when he sealed the play-off victory over Mediate in 18 holes, but what a price he would pay as further injuries started to gather pace amid an 11-year (4,082 days) drought without a major win. 

Fast forward to 2010, and Woods had to withdraw from the Players Championship on the Sunday with a neck injury, and it was later revealed he had an inflamed facet joint.

It was from this point on that Woods’ injuries started to move further up his body. After a couple more achilles tendon and knee problems in 2011-2012, he suffered a left elbow strain during The Players Championship in 2013.

Following several problems with his back, it wasn’t before March 2014 that the American, who announced he would sit on the sidelines for the Masters, had surgery on his back in Utah for a pinched nerve.

In September the next year, Woods’ back injury returned and he required a second micro-discectomy surgery to remove a disc fragment that was pinching his nerve.

Woods’ golfing career was starting to unravel around him and shortly after came a third back surgery in October, in which he had a procedure to ‘relieve’ discomfort.

But finally in April 2017, the eight-time Ryder Cup star underwent his fourth back surgery. He had a procedure called spinal fusion, which appeared to have proved a game-changer, to alleviate the pain in his back and leg. 

One year on from that fourth back surgery, which incredibly saw him fall out of the top 1,000 in the world while dealing with personal problems, Woods returned to Augusta going in search of his fifth Green Jacket.

Woods finally felt free again after years of pain and his iconic swing was back. Speaking ahead of his eagerly-anticipated return, Woods admitted: ‘I’ve gone from my leg collapsing on me and lying on the floor for long periods because my back couldn’t support my weight to swinging the club faster than I did in my prime.

‘I wish I could explain it to you. When they explained the fusion surgery to me I thought that was it, that I was going to have a nice, comfortable life but that I would never swing the club like I could speed-wise.

‘But all of a sudden the pop is back and now I’m going to be out here for a very long time because I have my length back to compete on any course. That is a miracle, isn’t it?’

Woods is driven off the course after withdrawing from the Players Championship in 2010 due to a neck injury

Woods is driven off the course after withdrawing from the Players Championship in 2010 due to a neck injury

Woods slowly reaches down to the cup to collect his ball after issues with his back at The Barclays, now known as The Northern Trust, in 2013

Woods slowly reaches down to the cup to collect his ball after issues with his back at The Barclays, now known as The Northern Trust, in 2013

While there were high hopes for Woods at the 2018 Masters – his first appearance at Augusta in three years – he ended up placing outside the top 30. But considering his accumulation of setbacks, it was a moment to treasure for golf fans worldwide.

He was back competing again at the highest level. Yes there were question marks over whether he could fight for the majors ever again, but just seeing him donning his iconic red and black Nike attire on the final day of a major was a sight worth remembering.

And his 2017 spinal fusion surgery will go down as one of the most famous, impactful procedures in sports history as just two years on, Woods defied the odds to seal arguably the biggest fairytale comeback sport has ever seen.

The surgery, which essentially involves bonding two painful bones into one stronger pain-free but less mobile vertebrae, allowed him to rebound from the ultimate depths of a career that appeared to be over to the ultimate high.

Tiger somehow walked away with his fifth Green Jacket in 2019 – his first major championship win in 11 years and his 15th triumph overall. At the age of 43, he became the second oldest golfer ever to win the Masters, after Jack Nicklaus who was 46 when he triumphed in 1986.

While those at the top of the Augusta leaderboard collapsed around him, Woods’ incredible winning mentality saw him through right to the very end, finishing on 13 under to win by one stroke ahead of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele.

After years and years of pain and heartbreak, Woods was back. It was an inspirational story for a player whose time in the top echelon’s of sport appeared to be coming to an underwhelming ending. He could hardly stand up or sit down, let alone swing a golf club, and painkillers were becoming a constant feature in his life.

Speaking about his latest back injury prior to that surgery, Woods highlighted his struggles: ‘When I swung a golf club, it felt like I was playing the game bloody knuckles … the uncomfortableness of when you hit your funny bone, how much that hurts … now do that 1,000 times per day and see what that feels like.’  

Back in 2017, Woods was forced to withdraw from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms

Back in 2017, Woods was forced to withdraw from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms

Woods viewed the procedure as a career-ender before learning more about the surgery. Not many gave him any real hope of returning on the PGA Tour following the surgery, let alone winning a major.

Woods himself admitted that he nearly quit golf in 2017 before spinal fusion allowed him to resume his career, reflecting on a story from the 2017 Champions Dinner at Augusta that highlighted his agony.

‘I was done at that particular time,’ Woods said, as quoted by ESPN. ‘I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner,’ he continued. ‘It meant so much to me to be part of the Masters and come to the Champions Dinner. I didn’t want to miss it. It was tough and uncomfortable.’

But little did we know that he would defy the odds and do something that has never been done in sport after such a delicate procedure. In 2018, Jack Nicklaus and his former coach Butch Harmon – like many others – thought Woods would never ever play again. 

Nicklaus said: ‘I never thought he would play again after that, after the fusion. To be able to come back from that and get his game and his life back in shape, he did a nice job.’

Harmon, while praising Woods’ comeback late in 2017, admitted: ‘The one thing I learned from my 10 years as Tiger’s coach, and since then, is never say never when it comes to Tiger Woods. I’ve said before that I wasn’t sure he’d ever play golf again, and even when he was playing I wasn’t sure he could ever win again. He may now have chances to win on the PGA Tour again, but winning a major is a different animal.’ 

But frustratingly for Woods, while he was getting his career firmly back on track, injuries took their toll once again and in August 2019, he was required to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair minor cartilage damage.

He was forced to spend the next few months rehabbing but in typical Tiger fashion, he went out and won the inaugural ZOZO event in his first tournament back in October, tying Sam Snead’s record for all-time PGA Tour wins at 82.

The 15-time major champion completed a fairytale comeback by winning the 2019 Masters after years of injury torment

The 15-time major champion completed a fairytale comeback by winning the 2019 Masters after years of injury torment

But his emotional roller-coaster didn’t end there either as in January this year, his constant back problems caught up with him once more.

After a 2020 season which saw him regularly lament not knowing how good or bad his back would feel on any given day, he struggled to practice and play at full strength – competing in just nine tour events.

And after playing with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship in December, Woods decided that it was time to have another micro-discectomy procedure to remove a pressurised disc fragment that was pinching a nerve.

This brings us to the here and now, with Woods’ hopes of competing at any event ever again in serious doubt.

Right now, it is unclear whether he will ever play again.

But what we do know is that Tiger is a fighter like no other golfer in history and will do everything in his power to get back playing once more.

He has shown down the years that he will never give up in the face of adversity and following his astonishing Masters triumph in 2019 after years of injury torment, Woods should never been written off…

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk