It was 15 minutes after his first public appearance since a terrifying car accident in February that Tiger Woods, who envisioned an uncertain future and a celebrated past, took the benchmark of his career.
“I’ve got that last major,” a wistful Woods said Tuesday, recalling his stunning 2019 win at the Masters Tournament, the most-watched golf event, at age 43.
Climbing to a similar pinnacle in golf, however, is no longer the main thing in Woods’ plans.
“I’ve had a pretty good run,” Woods said, with a thin smile, at a news conference nine months after sustaining devastating leg injuries when his high-speed sports-utility vehicle tumbled off a boulevard in the Los Angeles area. . He added: “I don’t see that kind of trend for me. It will have to be done in a different way. I am at peace with it. I have made the climb often enough.”
It was then that one of the most influential athletes of the last quarter of a century withdrew from the fiercest spotlight in the sport. Woods said he hoped to return to competitive golf at some level, although he offered no timetable for achieving that ambition. Instead, a sports champion best known for his readiness for victories admitted that his surgically rebuilt right leg would forever hinder his once-high hopes and drive.
“A full exercise schedule and the recovery it takes to do that,” he said, “no, I don’t feel like doing that.”
It was a standout concession for the tenacious Woods and an inflection point for golf and sports in general. Woods has been one of the world’s most prominent people since winning the first of his 15 major golf championships in 1997, with globally recognized likeness and ubiquitous commercial endorsement.
But for all its triumphs and associated fame, February’s crash and its debilitating consequences were in keeping with a recurring cycle of fortune and misfortune – all caused by Woods himself – that will forever mark the story of his life.
At the height of his fame, in 2009, when he seemed destined to easily surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major golf championships—Woods already had 14—news reports of serial infidelity cost him his marriage, and he was shunned by many in the world. golf world. community. His numerous corporate sponsors dropped him. The scandal caused him to take a long break from golf.
When Woods returned to competition, he struggled to regain his old form, in part due to physical ailments associated with the obsessive, perhaps overly aggressive training regimen that had been his hallmark. Worse for Woods, on the same courses where he had been greeted with wild cheers, he was instead greeted with an eerie silence that bordered on contempt.
Over time, he became a limping afterthought as a young wave of golfers replaced him in the rankings. Woods’ descent led to a decisive act: an overnight arrest in May 2017 that revealed an opioid addiction. Police took Woods into custody after he was found alone and sleeping in his car on the side of a road with the engine running.
In keeping with his career, Woods’s resurrection was dramatic and irresistible.
At the 2019 Masters, he was not considered a serious contender. But as he played the final holes of the final round on the hallowed grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club, Woods was rejuvenated. He played his best golf as his younger rivals withered and birdied three of the last six holes to claim his fifth Masters title. When he dropped the winning putt on the 18th hole, Woods celebrated with a primal scream that seemed to be matched by the thousands of fans circling the green.
Two years earlier, Woods was ranked 1119th in the world rankings. His comeback, given his off-the-course hardships, is one of the greatest in sports history.
While Woods remained competitive in 2019, winning one more event, the pandemic forced an extended absence from golf. In January of this year, he underwent a fifth back surgery that sidelined him. He hoped to be back in April.
On Feb. 23, police determined that Woods was driving approximately 85 mph in a 45 mph zone on the winding Southern California road when he lost control of his SUV. Woods suffered open fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg in several places.
On Tuesday, ahead of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, a tournament that benefits Woods’ foundation, he briefly spoke about the crash and its aftermath, including the possibility that his right leg would have to be amputated.
“I feel like I’m lucky to be alive, but still have the limbs — those are two crucial things,” said Woods, 45. “So I’m very, very grateful that someone upstairs was able to take care of me and that I can not only be here, but also walk with a prosthesis.”
When asked what he remembered of the crash, Woods said: “Yes, all those answers have been answered in the investigation. You can read all about that in the police report.”
In an investigative affidavit, Woods repeatedly said he could not remember how the crash happened. He was not charged with any legal violation. When asked if he had any flashbacks or a recent memory of the incident, Woods replied, “I don’t. I’m very lucky that way.”
Woods said he purposely did not watch news reports about his crash while he was in hospital.
“I didn’t want my mind to go there,” Woods said, adding that he was in a lot of pain even when he was on medication. When asked if he was still in pain, he grinned and nodded.
“Yeah, my back hurts, my leg hurts,” Woods said.
Woods seemed most comfortable discussing what he can and cannot do on the golf course right now. He has started playing some holes, but said his swing lacks speed and power, noting that many of his shots “fall out of the sky” much sooner than ever.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Woods said, giggling in support of a United States Golf Association initiative that encourages golfers to play from tees that can significantly shorten the length of courses. “I really like that idea.”
The comment reflected the arduous road Woods will face to return to the elite golf level needed to play on the PGA Tour.
“I have to prove to myself that I’m good enough,” he said of that effort. Referring to PGA Tour pros, Woods quipped, “I’ll chip-and-putt with one of these guys, but courses are longer than chip-and-putt courses. I’m not going to play the par-3 course in Augusta to win the Masters. You need a bigger game than that.”
But Woods, speaking of how to keep the muscles and nerves in his right leg rehabilitated, was nevertheless optimistic that in time he might be able to improve his game enough to return to sporadic tour events.
“To step up a few tournaments a year, there’s no reason why I can’t do that and feel ready,” he said. “I’ve had long layoffs and I’ve won or almost won. I know the recipe.”
However, he warned that he was not close to that level yet.
“I still have a long way to go to get to that point,” Woods said. “I haven’t decided yet if I want to get to that point.”
About halfway through the press conference, Woods was asked if he would like to play at the British Open next year, on the 150th anniversary of the event. It is held in St Andrews, the birthplace of golf.
“I would love to play at St Andrews, my favorite golf course in the world, and become a two-time Open champion there,” he said.
But Woods’ next sentence was perhaps the most telling. He changed the subject when asked if he could attend the pre-match ceremonial dinner for the former British Open champions.
“I would like, you know, it’s just really nice to be a part of the championship dinner,” he said. “Those dinners are priceless. It’s an honor to be part of such a room.”