Golf

A Doctor Scrutinizes Tiger Woods’ Leg Injuries: ‘He’s Not Out of the Woods Yet’

To say the life story of Tiger Woods is packed with drama would be an understatement. The golf superstar, perhaps the greatest of all time alongside Jack Nicklaus, won his latest Masters in 2019 after a long comeback. He had a blockbuster documentary air about the struggles and successes of his life.

These happened before the auto accident that marks the latest chapter in Woods’ life. Not even two years after his return to Masters-level greatness, his daytime collision caused grievous leg injuries that might spell the end of his career. Will Woods return to PGA Tour success? A few notable medical professionals think his prognosis looks positive. But some think his long-term outcome remains up in the air.

The shocking details of Tiger Woods’ accident

Workers move a vehicle after a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods
Golfer Tiger Woods’ car is moved after his 2021 accident | Mark J. Terrill for For The Times

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According to an ESPN report, Woods crashed his 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV at about 10 am. The incident took place about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Woods was, thankfully, the sole occupant of the vehicle. The car drifted into a center divider on his way down a hill noted for frequent accidents.

Woods was alert when police arrived on the scene. He was unable to get out of the wreck of his own volition, however. Members of the L.A. County Fire Department arrived and used a pry bar and ax to remove the windshield of Woods’ vehicle. Unable to stand due to extensive leg damage, he was lucid enough to ask for help getting into the ambulance.

Woods was placed onto a backboard and taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where he underwent emergency surgery. After stabilizing, he was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to begin rehab and recovery. There is no clear date for him to be cleared to leave. But an International Business Times report notes that fellow PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy spoke with Tiger and believes he will be home soon.

Doctors are mixed on whether Woods can return to the PGA Tour

The immediate reaction after Woods’ accident was, among many commentators, shock at the potential end of his golf career. Due to his pre-existing spinal issues, the 2019 Masters winner already faced an uphill battle to repeat a shot at the title in April. The addition of major leg injuries and the associated recovery could easily spell the end of his incredible career.

Several doctors, upon learning of the extent of his injuries, felt similarly. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Polsky heavily hedged his prediction, saying only that Woods could”maybe […] to some extent be athletic” someday. Dr. Mehmet Oz, talk show host and cardiothoracic surgeon, told TMZ Sports that a full recovery within a year could occur. “I won’t bet against Tiger Woods,” Oz said. One doctor, though, thinks Woods has a longer road ahead of him than that.

A sports medicine specialist predicts challenging days ahead for Woods

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Physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist Dr. Brian Sutterer isn’t working on Woods’ case. But he’s worked on similar cases, as documented on his sports medicine-focused YouTube channel. He thinks that, given the extent of Woods’ injuries, the focus should be more about returning to an acceptable quality of life before even considering PGA Tour golf.

Sutterer’s analysis mirrors details from this New York Times report. While much of the coverage has focused on how doctors saved the Masters champ’s leg via emergency surgery, the extreme force of the impact triggered a cluster of injuries. Woods’ shinbones were smashed, badly enough that pieces protruded from his skin at the scene of the accident.

Those fragments damaged muscle tissue and tendons, with the potential for injuries like a torn ACL — a potential career-ender for any athlete. In Woods’ case, muscle-sheathing tissue known as fascia held his injuries in place. But rapid swelling in the muscle tissue triggered emergency doctors to put him in surgery to prevent further pressure buildup. In these cases, Sutterer notes, cluster injuries tend to spiral out further than the initial treatment shows.

Cluster injuries could lead to unexpectedly long recoveries, especially as complications unexpectedly arise along the way. That isn’t to say Woods can never return to professional athletics ever again.

Sutterer points out that the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George also had shattered bone treated with screws and a stabilizing metal rod, much like Woods’ experience. He’s back in the NBA today, retaining his superstar clout to boot. While Dr. Oz might be somewhat on the overly positive side, even Sutterer insists that another PGA Tour run isn’t objectively out of the cards for Woods just yet.