Dramatic crash threatens champion’s career

Champion to a T: Woods is the only golfer to have held all four Majors titles at once. © Getty

Is this man the greatest athlete in history? In the latest of many dramatic life events, Tiger Woods has survived a terrifying car accident, but there are fears he may never play golf again.

No one expected to find the driver still alive. He had lost control of his car on a downhill curve; it had veered across the road, hit the curb, crashed into a tree and turned over several times before landing on its side in the brush. But Tiger Woods, the world’s most famous golfer, was conscious and lucid. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva called it "nothing short of a miracle”.

Woods, however, was badly injured, and getting him out of the car without making his condition worse was a major challenge. He was still strapped in by his seat belt and the car had rolled onto the driver’s-side door. Firefighters had to break a giant hole in the windscreen with an axe and then pry back the metal around his legs.

Once that was done, paramedics were able to put a surgical collar around his neck, attach splints to his legs, and put him on a backboard before inching him out through the windscreen.

Woods was taken to a Los Angeles hospital, where he underwent lengthy emergency surgery on both his legs. It involved inserting a metal rod and several screws and pins. Afterwards, he was reported to be "awake, responsive and recovering”.

Woods was not in great shape even before the accident. Last month he underwent back surgery for the fifth time, and though he was in Los Angeles to host a golf tournament, he was unable to take part. The crash is yet another setback in a career brimming with highs and lows.

Woods’s eye for a ball was spotted by his father when Tiger was less than a year old. At two, he appeared on TV, demonstrating his golfing skills alongside Bob Hope. A few months later, he won a competition for under-10s. By 15 he was US junior amateur champion – a title he won for a record three years in succession.

In 1996, aged 20, he turned professional. The following year he became the youngest player ever to win the Masters and to be ranked number one in the world. Sponsorship deals which have now totalled over £1bn began to roll in. When he married a former model, Elin Nordegren, and they had two children, his wonderful life seemed complete.

But in 2009 things started to go wrong. It emerged that he had cheated on Elin many times. He took a break from golf to undergo rehab for a problem with prescription medication. Though he apologised publicly for his “irresponsible and selfish behaviour”, his wholesome image was badly dented, and the couple divorced.

Then his back problems came to the fore. In the five years after 2012, he took part in only 24 events. In 2017, under the influence of drugs he was prescribed after spinal surgery, he was arrested and found guilty of reckless driving.

But in 2019 he made what is considered one of the most amazing sporting comebacks of all time. He won the Masters at Augusta after going 11 years without taking a major title.

Is this man the greatest athlete in history?

Burning bright

Some say, yes. As well as having tremendous sporting ability, Woods’s ability to fight back from appalling situations shows that he has the courage and determination that are the mark of a true champion. The only thing that has prevented him from achieving even more is the bad luck of suffering from serious back problems. If he can overcome his latest injuries his place as the top athlete will be beyond doubt.

Others argue that there are plenty of stars who have achieved as much or more. Look at Serena Williams with her 23 Grand Slam singles titles; Usain Bolt with his eight Olympic gold medals; Muhammad Ali, who won three of boxing’s greatest fights; Simone Biles with her 30 combined Olympic and World Championship medals. And Woods is not even the most successful golfer in history: Jack Nicklaus won 18 major titles to his 15.

You Decide

  1. Do flawed people make more realistic heroes?
  2. Should we pay less attention to sporting heroes, and more to those who do things for other people, such as doctors?

Activities

  1. Tiger Woods has given his name to a range of clothing including trainers, T-shirts and baseball caps. Imagine that you are a sports superstar and design a brand celebrating yourself.
  2. Imagine that you have a five-year-old brother or sister who has just won a national sports competition. Write a diary entry expressing your delight or irritation.

Some People Say...

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose.”

Wilma Rudolph (1940 – 1994), American athlete

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Woods’s achievement is all the more remarkable because golf is a sport in which little encouragement has been given to ethnic minorities. His father was of African-American, Chinese and Native American descent, while his mother is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent. He describes himself as “Cablinasian” – a mixture of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. His biggest hope, he says, is that we will “one day see one another as people and people alone”.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around what the future holds for Woods if he cannot play again. Many sports stars find it difficult to live without the buzz of competition and struggle to find a fulfilling occupation after retirement. Often they fall into financial difficulties as well. But Woods has many opportunities open to him as a commentator and businessman, and at 45 should be mature enough to make the most of them.

Word Watch

Lucid
Easy to understand. The word derives from a Latin verb meaning to shine.
Los Angeles
The largest city in California, and the second largest in the US. It includes Hollywood, and at one point produced 80% of the world’s films.
Father
Earl Woods was a lieutenant colonel in the US Army who fought in the Vietnam War. He was an accomplished golfer himself and coached Tiger at the start of his career.
Bob Hope
An American comedian and golf enthusiast who starred in more than 50 films.
Masters
One of the four key golf championships known as the Majors. The others are the PGA Championship, the US Open and the British Open.
Rehab
Short for rehabilitation, the process of returning someone to a normal life.
Augusta
A city in Georgia where the Masters is always held. The winner of the tournament gets a green jacket and over $2m in prize money.

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