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Can Tiger Woods return to competitive golf?


Tiger Woods has triumphed over the best challenges attainable on a golf course. But he has by no means confronted a check just like the one which’s earlier than him now.

Woods suffered severe injuries to his legs in a one-car rollover on a Los Angeles area street Tuesday morning. He was driving on a winding residential street when his SUV hit an indication, a curb, crossed over two lanes of oncoming visitors, traveled down right into a gully and ended up driver’s-side down. The undeniable fact that Woods survived that initial impact was the first good sign.

Woods was acutely aware when first responders arrived on the scene, and “awake” and “responsive,” in accordance to his crew, late Tuesday night. Between these occasions, although, he underwent hours of in depth surgical procedure, the primary steps in what will probably be an extended and arduous restoration.

Two questions face Woods, one speedy and essential, the opposite long-term and aspirational. First, can Woods have a traditional life, with typical mobility and freedom from ache? Second, can one of many world’s best-known athletes ever return to competitive golf?

Yahoo Sports spoke to a number of surgeons with in depth expertise in treating accidents related to these Woods suffered. Without having reviewed Woods’ particular case file — and with the caveat that there could also be undisclosed parts of Woods’ case that might affect any prognosis — all agreed {that a} return to a traditional life is extremely possible, and a return to elite-level golf isn’t out of the query.

“Tiger has a very, very, very long road to recovery ahead,” stated Dr. Kirk Campbell, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health, “and based on the information we have, returning to being an elite golfer would be very challenging. But I would not root against him.”

A vehicle rests on its side after a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods along a road in the Rancho Palos Verdes section of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Woods suffered leg injuries in the one-car accident and was undergoing surgery, authorities and his manager said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

A automobile rests on its facet after a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods alongside a street within the Rancho Palos Verdes part of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Woods suffered leg accidents within the one-car accident and was present process surgical procedure, authorities and his supervisor stated. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The extent of Woods’ accidents

The easy undeniable fact that Woods is in therapy in any respect, given the way in which his SUV left the street and got here to relaxation, is nice information.

“Any time there is a rollover accident where the car gets off four wheels, you can die,” stated Dr. Brian Polsky, an orthopedic surgeon on the Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics in Washington, D.C. “The trauma involved in that is very unpredictable, even with seatbelts and airbags. From that standpoint alone, he’s fortunate.”

Late Tuesday night, Woods’ crew launched an announcement documenting the extent of his accidents. Dr. Anish Mahajan, CMO and interim CEO at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, indicated that Woods suffered “significant orthopaedic injuries to his right lower extremity.” In element, these recognized accidents and coverings included:

  • Comminuted open fractures on each the tibia and fibula. “Comminuted” means Woods’ bones broke into greater than two items. “Open” means the bones broke by means of the pores and skin. “The bone saw the outside world, which is very bad,” Polsky stated. “That means there’s a significant increase of infection.”

  • Insertion of a rod to stabilize the tibia. Doctors inserted an intramedullary nail in Woods’ tibia, operating it from his knee towards his ankle. The nail is 12 to 16 inches lengthy, relying on the size of the affected person’s tibia, and can stay in place. This is a regular process in instances of this kind, and lengthy bones sometimes heal properly.

  • Insertion of screws and pins to stabilize the foot and ankle. “This may be the bigger issue,” stated Dr. James Gladstone, chief of sports activities drugs at The Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “If it’s a simple ankle fracture, those can get fixed, and people do very well. If it’s complex or severe, the risk is that the ankle gets stiff during the course of the healing process.”

  • Surgical launch of the masking of muscle groups of the leg. “Any muscle has a covering over it like skin,” Gladstone stated. “If you’ve had trauma, the muscle swells, and you may have to do a fasciotomy, where you cut that covering to keep the muscle from being strangled.” Fasciotomies typically require the wound to be left open so as to let the muscle subside, which in flip will increase the danger of an infection.

All of those procedures would require a minimal of a number of days within the hospital, and presumably rather more as soon as the trauma crew sees how Woods responds to preliminary therapy. Antibiotics will probably be a necessity, and certain extra surgical remedies.

“Open fractures can require a number of debridements, which is a elaborate phrase for cleanups,” Polsky said. “That’s not uncommon. He could potentially require additional procedures for skin coverages, skin grafts and muscle grafts, depending on how bad it is.”

Then Woods will leave the hospital, and the real work will begin.

Rehab and recovery

This won’t be the first rehab session for Woods — or the second, third, fourth or fifth. Woods has undergone multiple surgical procedures all over his body, most recently his fifth back surgery just before last Christmas. Each time, Woods rebounded, sometimes slowly, sometimes triumphantly.

“Unfortunately, it’s very possible that he may not physically be back to 100 percent, ever,” Polsky said. “But the person you’re dealing with, someone of that athletic level, that amount of mental strength, that focus he has, definitely adds to the potential of him returning.”

The mental aspect of Woods’ recovery will be a crucial one, but given his well-established tenacity, that aspect of his treatment isn’t as much of a concern. Take it from the people who’ve seen that up close: the players he has competed against, and beaten, for the past two decades.

“We all know he’s a strong cookie physically, mentally,” Tony Finau said Tuesday while practicing for the WGC-Workday Classic in Florida, “so if someone’s going to get through this, he will, and be back for the better, I’m sure.”

That’s a hopeful diagnosis, not a medical one. Before Woods walks up another fairway, he’ll need to walk out his front door. That alone will require months of physical therapy.

“I would imagine that when all is said and done, he’s in very good hands, so he has a very good chance of having a basically normal life,” Polsky said, “being able to walk, be a father, maybe even to some extent be athletic, depending on recovery.”

What about his day job? That’s another matter entirely.

Tiger Woods is seen looking down at the 18th hole from the practice green during the final round of the Genesis Invitational golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Tiger Woods was at the Genesis Invitational golf tournament Sunday, but not as a player. A recent back surgery kept him from playing. (AP)

Can Woods ever play competitive golf again?

Golf fans with an eye toward history have noted the similarities between Woods’ accident and that of Ben Hogan, who lived through a devastating wreck in 1949, suffering a fractured pelvis, blood clots and a range of other injuries. Hogan recovered and went on to win six more majors. Could Woods enjoy a similar resurgence?

Again, that’s probably more optimistic than realistic. Woods, 45, is 12 years older than Hogan was at the time of his accident. Even before Tuesday, Woods’ career was on a slow decline. Since his landmark Masters win in 2019, he has missed the cut in three majors and hasn’t cracked the top 20 in any of the others. He’s slipped out of the world top 50 for the first time since 2018. On Sunday at the Genesis Invitational — in which he did not play because of his back — he was tentative, at best, about his prospects for the Masters. Now? Who knows?

“That’s the $10 million question,” Polsky said. “There are fairly simple compound fractures that are open that are treated effectively with one procedure, and that individual can return to whatever their pre-injury status was.” He cites the example of one of his patients, an Olympic athlete who suffered a similar open compound fracture and later returned to the Olympics.

Campbell pointed to Alex Smith, the Washington Football Team quarterback who suffered an identical harm to Woods — damaged tibia and fibula, together with nerve injury — however nonetheless returned to the sector two seasons later and saved Washington within the playoff hunt.

“It all depends on concomitant [associated] injuries,” Campbell stated. “Right now we don’t know the details of his foot and ankle injury. And we’re not even speaking about his lower back. He’s still rehabbing from the recent surgery on that.”

Worth noting: Woods’ crew centered on trauma to the fitting leg, though preliminary experiences indicated that he had damaged bones in each legs. Whether meaning his left leg was not as severely broken, or whether or not Woods’ crew is protecting that data non-public, stays unknown. But if the first harm is to Woods’ proper leg, that carries some small glimmer of hope for his golf sport.

“For a right-handed golfer, a lot of the power and torque goes through the left leg at the hip, the knee, the ankle,” Polsky stated. “If the right leg got to 90 percent, he probably could be playing potentially competitive golf. If the worst of [the trauma] was to the right leg, that’s mildly positive.”

Assuming Woods recovers at a projected charge, he received’t give you the option to return to a golf course for months. Given that his focus now could be on profitable majors, it’s possible he’ll miss the complete 2021 main season, which runs from mid-April to mid-July. That might imply we received’t see Woods tee it up in any event till 2022.

“It can really cover the spectrum,” Gladstone stated. “It can be he returns without any problem, or he can’t return at all. Without knowing more about his specific injury and how he’s responding, we just don’t know yet.”

“We all know Tiger is such a tremendous athlete, and he’s proven time and time again that he’s super-dedicated in terms of rehab,” Campbell stated. “But the injury that he had will need several months before he’ll be back to functioning at a reasonable level.”

Whenever he’s prepared, the sport will probably be ready for him.

“I have no doubt in my mind he’ll be back,” Bryson DeChambeau stated. “Take him a little longer, I’m sure, but from my perspective he’s one of the most impressive human beings I’ve ever met and I think that he’ll come back just fine.”

Rory McIlroy, certainly one of Woods’ heirs within the sport, supplied a extra philosophical perspective. “He’s not Superman,” McIlroy stated Wednesday. “He’s a human being at the end of the day. And he’s already been through so much. At this stage, I think everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad. That’s the most important thing. Golf is so far from the equation right now, it’s not even on the map at this point.”

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Jay Busbee is a author for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]

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