In a career filled with remarkable comebacks, Tiger Woods faces his toughest recovery of all.
Mr. Woods was driving through a sweeping, downhill stretch of road through coastal suburbs of Los Angeles when his SUV struck a sign, crossing over a raised median and two oncoming lanes before it toppled down an embankment, coming to a halt on its side.
The airbags deployed. A sheriff’s deputy poked his head through a hole in the windshield to see Mr. Woods, still wearing his seatbelt, sitting in the driver’s seat.
The crash caused “significant” injuries to his right leg, and what followed was described as a “long surgical procedure” at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
A statement on his Twitter account said Woods was awake, responsive, and recovering.
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Some observers are already rooting for his recovery, noting the similarities to golfing legend Ben Hogan, who was told he might never walk again, let alone play golf, after a car accident in February of 1949. Just 16 months later, Hogan won the U.S. Open championship. As Luke Norris at Sportscasting.com wrote:
Ben Hogan obviously did walk again and that became one of the biggest parts of his rehab process. He slowly began resuming golf activities in the ensuing months and made his glorious return to the PGA Tour in January 1950 at the Los Angeles Open at famed Riviera Country Club. And, magically, he nearly won the tournament but lost to fellow legend Sam Snead in a playoff. But there was certainly more magic to come.
Five months later, just 16 months after the accident that nearly killed him, Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia and hit one of the most famous shots in golf history en route to victory. Tied for the lead on the 72nd hole, Hogan hit a 1-iron into the green at the difficult 18th, which produced one of the most iconic photographs in sports history, and two-putted his way into an 18-hole playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
Hogan was the only player to shoot under par in the playoff, firing a 1-under 69 to win by four over Mangrum and six over Fazio to secure his second U.S. Open and fourth major championship.
“I will say that it’s very fortunate that Mr. Woods was able to come out of this alive,” said Carlos Gonzalez, the deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who was the first on the scene after a neighbor called 911.
The single-car crash was the latest setback for Mr. Woods, who at times has looked unstoppable on the golf course with his 15 major championships and record-tying 82 victories on the PGA Tour. He is among the most recognizable sports figures in the world, and even with a reduced schedule from nine previous surgeries, remains golf’s biggest draw.
He won the 2008 U.S. Open despite injuries in his left leg. His personal life imploded on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 when he was caught having multiple extramarital affairs, and he returned to win his 11th award as PGA Tour player of the year and reach No. 1.
And then after four back surgeries that kept him out of golf for the better part of two years, he won the Masters in April 2019 for the fifth time, a victory that ranks among the great comebacks in the sport.
Mr. Woods was in Los Angeles over the weekend as the tournament host of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. Monday and Tuesday had been set aside for Discovery-owned GOLFTV for Mr. Woods to give playing tips to celebrities. A tweet Monday showed him in a cart at Rolling Hills Country Club with comedian David Spade. He also worked with NBA great Dwyane Wade, who posted a video to his Instagram account.
Mr. Woods was headed to Rolling Hills on Tuesday when the accident happened.
“It was a great day,” Mr. Wade said Tuesday night on Turner Sports, where he is a studio analyst. “And I woke up today so proud to be able to post that moment for the world, like a little snippet of our moment together. And I took a nap, and I woke up to the news. So, you know, just like everybody out there, my thoughts and prayers are all to his loved ones.”
Thoughts and prayers have come from everywhere – Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, and former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Mr. Woods played golf with both of them, and Mr. Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019 after perhaps his greatest triumph – the Masters after he had gone through four back surgeries.
Mr. Woods had a fifth back surgery on Dec. 23, just three days after he played the PNC Championship with his son Charlie. Mr. Woods also has a teenage daughter, Samantha.
The news put a damper on the World Golf Championship in Florida, where Mr. Woods was eligible to play if healthy.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” said Justin Thomas, No. 3 in the world and among the younger players whom Mr. Woods has embraced. “It hurts to see one of my closest friends get in an accident. Man, I just hope he’s all right.”
The crash happened about 7:15 a.m. as he drove his courtesy vehicle from the Genesis Invitational through the upscale suburbs. Mr. Gonzalez says he sometimes catches people topping 80 mph in the 45 mph zone and crashes are common.
Police said Mr. Woods was alert as firefighters pried open the front windshield to get him out. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the airbags deployed and the inside of the SUV stayed mostly intact, which “gave him a cushion to survive the crash.”
Authorities said they checked for any odor of alcohol or other signs he was under the influence of a substance and found none. They didn’t say how fast he was driving.
This is the third time Mr. Woods has been involved in a car investigation. The most notorious was the early morning after Thanksgiving in 2009, when his SUV ran over a fire hydrant and hit a tree. That was the start of shocking revelations that he had been cheating on his wife with multiple women.
In May 2017, Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of a car parked awkwardly on the side of the road. He was arrested on a DUI charge and said he had an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine for his back pain. Mr. Woods later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and checked into a clinic to get help with prescription medication and a sleep disorder.
Mr. Woods hasn’t won since the Zozo Championship in Japan in fall 2019, and he’s reduced his playing schedule in recent years because of injuries.
He was asked during the CBS broadcast Sunday at Riviera about recovering from his back surgery in time to play the Masters, and Mr. Woods replied, “God, I hope so. I’ve got to get there first.”
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