Tiger Woods has provided answers his entire career; after his car crash, it’s time to change the question

Questions about Tiger Woods, for the last decade-plus anyway, have always revolved around whether he’s reached the end of the road. They were asked as far back as 2008 when he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a fractured left leg, and they have continued for the last 13 years at every turn of his life. On Tuesday, they were asked for a massively different reason.

Woods rolled his SUV at the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Blackhorse Road just south of downtown Los Angeles, and for a few hours, the golf world was chaotic. When fracturing both of your legs and shattering an ankle is the best of all the conceivable outcomes, that tells you everything you need to know about Tiger’s most recent car incident in a career now marked by three of them.

On Sunday, Woods was interviewed by Jim Nantz on CBS during the final round of the 2021 Genesis Invitational, which he was in town to host on behalf of his foundation. Woods talked his way through the interview and said little that was meaningful until the end when he told Nantz that he doesn’t have much “wiggle room” left as it relates to his back and playing professional golf.

Just 48 hours later, golf is the furthest thing from our minds. We’re just glad he’s alive.

Woods’ crash almost certainly erases any of the wiggle room that still existed in the battered body that housed the best to ever play the game. Woods has undergone five back surgeries and more leg operations than anyone has cared to document on a Wikipedia page. The birth certificate might say 1975, but Tiger’s body is not 45-years-old.

Because of the myriad operations, false starts and long layoffs, the two questions that dance in union with one another when it comes to Woods are relatively obvious.

Is he back?

Is he done?

Tiger’s life has been a tragedy. There’s no way around it. There has been so much achievement and success, but at what cost? The bill on Woods’ fame, glory and genius is more than his career earnings can begin to cover.

Nobody meant for it to be this way. All we wanted was to enjoy this extraordinary man-child whose spindly frame shifted the tectonic plates of a sport and an industry as he marched up the 18th fairway at Augusta National on April 13, 1997.

We did what humans have always done with 21-year-old prodigies. We made him a king.

Woods took the crown willingly because that’s what you do when you’re born and bred to handle mounting pressure at every turn.

Tiger spent the next 10 years exceeding even the wildest expectations. His reign was magnificent. Along the way, he started to incur the sadness of extreme success. He became bigger than the game and more famous than the President of the United States.

The only thing that mattered when it came to Woods was the next achievement.

“I’ve seen it first-hand,” Rory McIlroy said in 2017. “I’ve seen what his life is like in Florida. I’ve played golf with him and said, ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to come and have dinner with us?’ And he can’t. He just can’t. And for me, that’s unfathomable. I could not live like that.

“I could not live like that. If someone was to say, ‘You can have 14 majors and 70 wins but have to deal with that, or nine majors and 40 wins and stay somewhat the same as you are,’ I’d take the second option all day.”

Anyone other than Tiger would pick the second option. The price of genius is tremendously weighty.

When it started to slip in Woods’ mid-30s, when the marriage crackled and the back knotted, it became more about us than it did about him. He became … almost inhuman. A source for our enjoyment that we seemed to forget wakes up in the morning and brushes his teeth just like the rest of us.

That period was surreal. Even as Tiger was withdrawing from tournaments and filling a punch card from his back surgeon, it seemed like it was happening to somebody else.

The reality of it all finally set in when he got his spine fused in 2017. We presumed The End was nigh. He thought it was, too.

Then came the 2018 Tour Championship where Woods, literally swarmed by his supporters as he walked up the fairway to win his 80th career PGA Tour event, brought back one of those questions.

Is he back?

Incredibly, 24 months after that fourth surgery got ticked on that punch card, Patrick Reed slipped a green jacket over the most famous spine in sports history. Immediately, we asked what we dare not for fear of jinx: Will Tiger eventually catch Jack Nicklaus?

The more distance put between Woods and that 2019 Masters win, the more it felt like the spiritual ending to his golf career.

The first green jacket in 1997 was for his dad. The others were for history. But that one — on that gloomy day at Augusta National in which he cleverly out-thwarted better players from a difficult position — was for Woods himself. He played like a once-proud fighter forced to think his way around a title bout in lieu of exerting the physical dominion he once possessed. 

A month later, Tiger’s body again appeared broken. Four months after that, he underwent another procedure. One of those old questions came roaring back.

Is he done?

Tiger, a rolling SUV and a steep, winding road destroyed what was left of his lower body Tuesday. Add these injuries to a back with no wiggle room because of a fifth back surgery in December 2020 — a follow-up to the spinal fusion — and you can read between the lines. It’s not difficult.

But what if we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along?

That’s the thought that sprung to mind as a crane twisted Tiger’s SUV out of hillside bunker and lifted it onto the bed of a truck to be taken away and stripped of its parts just as its former driver has been stripped of his.

We keep asking whether the end is coming for Tiger because we want the answer to be, “No.”

We want to root for him. We want to be awash in greatness. As humans, we were made to get a glimpse at perfection and crave it endlessly from its source.

Tiger Woods has provided 10 lifetimes of memories. He has paid the price physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, regardless of the source of his triumphs and defeats.

He’s provided so many answers, perhaps it’s time for a new question.

With two children to love and a world of possibilities beyond playing the sport that has taken so much from his life, we should enjoy those 15 majors, 82 PGA Tour wins and countless memories from the best to ever play the game. Now we ask …

What’s next?


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