By Lenn Robbins
If we’ve learned one thing about the man who took golf to another level and opened up the game to millions worldwide it’s this: Never count out Tiger Woods. Never.
Or have we not learned?
Have we done with Tiger what we’ve done with so many of the greats – relished in his downfall; took some twisted delight in watching an elite athlete succumb to age and injury?
That narrative screamed at us just last weekend when Woods wasn’t able to play in the tournament he hosts – the Genesis Open. On Dec. 23rd he had undergone his fifth back surgery – one for as many bones as there is in the spine’s lumbar region – and was targeting the 2021 Masters in April for his return.
Add that to five knee surgeries, one surgery for a pinched nerve, a left Achilles’ tendon which has gotten so tight a Wallenda Brother wouldn’t walk across it, and a double fracture in his left tibia and it’s no wonder why Woods, 45, has been counted out.
His dream of winning one more PGA Tour event and breaking the record he shares with Sam Snead at 82 wins? Over. His quest to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships wins? Denied.
Those records have never seemed less attainable after Woods reportedly broke both legs in a one-car crash Tuesday morning in Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles. Woods had to be extricated from the car through the front windshield according to multiple reports.
Mark Steinberg, Woods’ manager said the golfer “suffered multiple leg injuries” and “was undergoing surgery.” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Woods is “lucky to be alive.”
We won’t count out Woods because he’s used that to stoke the competitive fire that burns like the matador red golf shirt he wears on Sunday when Tiger is stalking victory. Remember when he won the 2008 U.S. Open six weeks after being told he had two stress fractures in his knee?
If he recovered from the fifth back surgery in time to play in the Master’s, he would be going for his 16th Major. That was before his car, reportedly being driven at a high rate of speed, rolled down an embankment trapping Woods. He acknowledged in a TV interview Sunday that being healthy enough to play in April was not guaranteed.
“God, I hope so,” Woods told Jim Nance of CBS. “I’ve got to get there first. A lot of it is based on my surgeons and doctors and therapist and making sure I do it correctly. This is the only back I’ve got, I don’t have much more wiggle room left.”
Whatever wiggle room he had left appears to have been exhausted. Forty-five is not young in the world of professional athletes. Add to that all the scars and scar tissue, all the emotional energy drained competing at the highest levels for more than 30 years and Woods was facing the undefeated, never-aging Father Time.
Now there is the crash, the broken legs and whatever other trauma he sustained, especially to his back. Sadly, we might have seen the last vision of Woods strutting the 18th fairway with the dead-eye purpose of a shark.
Here’s hoping he proves us wrong, again.