Summoning the spirit of Ben Hogan might not be enough for Tiger Woods to prolong a remarkable career. That the golf world is not prepared for Woods to call time on tournament pursuits was clear in the aftermath of the road accident that left the stricken 45-year-old requiring prolonged surgery on his right leg.
Hogan did it, why can’t Tiger? Golf wants to cling on to an individual who transcends the sport and has single-handedly hauled it into a different commercial stratosphere. The post-Woods age has lingered somewhere in the distance for some time, with no one really willing to address what it may entail. The reticence is completely understandable: Woods is a one-off.
Hogan was crushed having dived across the passenger seat of his car to save his wife from an oncoming Greyhound bus. After waiting 90 minutes for an ambulance, Hogan was told he may never walk again. His eyesight was severely impaired. Hogan’s comeback ranks among the most incredible in all of sport. He won six majors from 1950 onwards, including the Masters twice.
Comparisons between what Hogan did and what Woods may aspire to are, unfortunately, fundamentally flawed. Hogan was 36 at the time of the head-on collision in foggy Texas. The Tiger Woods extricated from an SUV is 45; with the crucial addendum of five back surgeries and previous operations as required on his left knee.
If there is one, minuscule reason to be positive about a grim medical bulletin released by Woods’s management, it is that his other leg is the one more seriously affected. The 15-times major champion incurred “open fractures affecting the tibia and fibula bones” in his lower right leg “stabilised by inserting a rod into the tibia”. Screws and pins were needed elsewhere.
It has been obvious for years that matters of a physical nature would eventually remove Woods from the fairways. His spine is fused. Yet even for a character so fabled, whose life resembles a bold movie script, no one could have predicted this type of farewell. Competitive closure is a legitimate theme now, such had been the toll on Woods’s body long before his accident in the rugged hills of California. Even the comeback king meets an insurmountable object at some point.
“You never give up,” Woods once said. “That’s a given. You always fight. Just giving up’s never in the equation.” Nevertheless, even superstars have decisions made for them. Given the detail provided by Los Angeles police, that Woods is lucky to still be alive, it would be astonishing if he does not now reflect on the suitability of a life more ordinary.
Woods has twice faced up to his fallibility before. In 2010, when confessing to the indiscretions that ruined his marriage, the golfer freely admitted to an earlier belief that he could play by different rules. That apology, like so much else in Woods’s life, was delivered in full view. The sporting world involves scores of stars who have erred; no one’s penance occurred with the publicity levels that were bestowed on Woods.
By 2017, pity was the overwhelming public sentiment as Woods was found slumped in his car in Florida. A self-medicated mix of painkillers dragged Woods towards his lowest ebb. At home he was in such agony that he struggled to sit at the dinner table. “I could barely walk,” he recalled. “I could barely do much of anything.”
That Woods donned a Green Jacket for the fifth time in 2019 stands out as an epic recovery tale. If the physical exertions associated with that triumph were widely quoted, Woods has been reticent regarding its psychological impact. With his adoring children watching on, not long after the sporting world had written him off, he had scaled the mountain once more.
Just as golf owes him absolutely nothing, there is precious little left to prove. Woods places great stock in enjoying typical activities with 12-year-old Charlie and Sam, who is 13. Woods’s focus was once on dominating golf; his own father almost built him for that very purpose. This phase of his life, partly because of traumatic experiences that have formed a backdrop, has seen Woods discover off-course contentment.
“He’s our hero out here,” said the former Masters champion Adam Scott. “You think guys like Tiger and Kobe Bryant are untouchable, but they’re not.” Unlike Bryant, who suffered such a horrible end, Woods will live to tell the tale of his escape.
It has never been at all wise to bet against Woods. “If we have learned anything over the years, it’s never to count Tiger out,” was the perfectly accurate intervention of Barack Obama. The fact the former US president spoke at all was another tacit illustration of this being no typical sportsperson.
Woods redefined almost every parameter in golf. He also seems to enjoy dramatic effect; when on Sunday Woods appeared out of sorts and downbeat about the possibility of featuring in April’s Masters, there was historic reason to avoid face-value conclusions. Within 48 hours, there was cause to believe a December tournament appearance in Orlando alongside his son, somewhat poetically, might be the end of the line. If it isn’t, Woods will be placing further, intense pressure on his body. And having achieved all he has, to what end?
In late 2019, Woods announced he would write and release his first ever memoir. “There have been books and articles and TV shows about me, most filled with errors, speculative and wrong,” he said. “This book is my definitive story.” Subsequent detail, even a release date, has been virtually nonexistent. Suddenly, we have cause to wonder whether the closing chapter has been filed.