D’Angelo: Do not count Tiger Woods out when it comes to playing golf again

Tom D'Angelo
Palm Beach Post
Tiger Woods plays his shot from the third tee during the final round of the 2020 Masters at Augusta National GC. [Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports]

As well wishes poured in from the biggest names – Barack Obama, Jack Nicklaus, current golfers, other athletes, celebrities from every industry – it was difficult to think of 83 or 18 or the 2021 Masters.

Tuesday, the only thought in most of our minds after seeing the crumpled SUV on its side in Southern California was Tiger Woods is lucky to be alive.

The Jupiter Island resident survived a horrific one-car crash Tuesday morning when he lost control on a steep grade and traveled several hundreds of feet while the vehicle rolled, coming to rest in the brush.

Tiger Woods' vehicle after he was involved in a rollover accident in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Tuesday. Woods had to be extricated from the wreck by Los Angeles County firefighters.

Tiger was extricated from the vehicle through its windshield and brought to a local trauma center where he underwent surgery for several hours to repair significant injuries to his right leg. According to an update on Woods’ official Twitter account early Wednesday, he had multiple open fractures – bones broken in more than two places and through the skin - to his lower right leg and had a rod placed in his tibia, and screws and pins inserted in his foot and ankle. He also suffered trauma to the muscle and soft tissue of his right leg.

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Now comes the recovery for the 45-year-old, something he’s, unfortunately, had as much experience with as he has hoisting trophies. But those have been different as he’s attempted to extend his career through neck and knee and back issues.

These injuries are traumatic. As serious as surgery is to repair a balky knee (of which he’s had four) or problematic back (five, the latest on Dec. 23), Tiger now faces his most challenging comeback.

But this is Tiger, and do not count him out. And if you are a big Tiger Woods fanatic and wondering if you will see him on a golf course ever again … here’s a story to give you hope.

Ben Hogan, one of the nation's leading golfers, smiles from his hospital bed at El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 12, 1949.  Hogan was recovering from injuries suffered when his automobile collided with a bus, Feb. 2.  With him was his wife, Valerie, who suffered bruises.  Hogan suffered a fractured pelvis, fractured collar bone, broken bone in his ankle, cracked rib and multiple bruises.

In 1949, during the prime of his career, the vehicle Ben Hogan was driving was hit head on by a Greyhound bus. Hogan was in his Cadillac in west Texas with his wife, Valerie, in the passenger seat when the bus attempted to pass another vehicle on a bridge leaving Hogan nowhere to go.

Hogan was 36. He suffered a double fracture of the pelvis, fractured collar bone, left ankle fracture, chipped rib and dealt with severe blood clots in his legs that were life threatening. What saved his life was his decision to protect his wife by throwing himself on top of her on the passenger side of the car. The steering column punctured the driver’s seat.

Although doctors said Hogan might not ever walk again, let along play golf, and although he would suffer from circulation problems the rest of his life and forced to wrap his legs before every round to reduce the swelling, Hogan had the best stretch of his career following the crash, from 1950-1953.

Among his nine Tour titles during this stretch were six majors (he won nine in his career), including the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953. He won those six majors in nine starts.

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Tiger has two milestones remaining, capturing that 83rd PGA Tour victory to break the tie with Sam Snead for the most ever and catching Nicklaus, whose 18 majors remains the standard.

The former was very attainable before Tuesday. The later, not so much. The 2019 Masters was Tigers’ 15th and his lone major championship in the last 13 years.

But even at 45, do not close the books on a career that has been everything from transcendent to tragic. Hogan’s story is inspirational for those who want to believe Tiger will return. Of course, six majors is not in Tigers' future, like it was in Hogan’s following his accident, but that will not define the final chapter of Tiger’s career.

The best news in the hours following the crash was Tiger’s injuries were not life-threatening. The best news following surgery was Tiger was "awake, responsive and recovering.”

Nobody expects the Tiger Woods of the late ‘90s and 2000s to ever again walk the fairways. But that was not the expectation before the accident.

Tiger still may play again. He never will be that dominant intimidator, but we knew that before Tuesday. But that’s OK. Just to see Tiger in a field in a PGA Tour event would be inspiring and a boost, not just that event, but to the sport. Tiger does not have to win a tournament or even contend on a Sunday to add juice to an event.

Tiger’s victory at the 2019 Masters was inspirational and a heartwarming comeback story. But that could be topped by Tiger one day just getting back on a golf course again. 

That would be a comeback for the ages.