For almost 30 years, Tiger Woods has made a habit of showing the world what the human mind and body can achieve. That you can, in fact, will yourself to greatness. Or, at least, he could.
But as much as Woods’ story is one of unimaginable athletic greatness, it also is one of humanity and redemption.
His saga has had innumerable trials, tribulations and triumphs. The latest twist in the story of golf’s greatest champion came Tuesday when Woods was involved in a single-vehicle rollover in Los Angeles County while on his way to a Golf Digest video shoot.
The second words “Tiger Woods” and “car crash” flickered across screens and televisions, the human mind immediately drifts to the worst possible scenario. But it needn’t stay there long.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Woods’ account informed everyone that the 15-time major winner suffered significant injuries to his lower right leg and ankle, including injuries to bone, muscle and soft tissue. But he is awake and responsive.
That last part is what matters. Awake and responsive.
For Woods, this accident is a cruel twist of fate in an arc that saw one of sports’ greatest icons become more relatable as the years went by.
He once was a 20-year-old star, burning brighter than anything golf had ever known. His invincibility gave him the gravitational pull like nothing we’d ever seen in sports. People, even those who never cared about golf, tuned in to see a living legend pummel the world’s most iconic tracks into submission.
We’ve seen Woods do the impossible on the course. We also saw him fight demons and win battles we never knew existed before they were out in the open.
That, Woods’ ability to rebound from rock bottom, made people love him for a different reason. He was human. He was, first and foremost, a father. One who wanted to show his kids, Charlie and Sam, that their dad wasn’t just a YouTube golfing legend, but that he could still do the things on a golf course that made people’s hearts stop.
That he could still make the Earth shake.
His victory at the 2019 Masters was the stuff of Hollywood fiction. Tiger embracing Charlie in the same spot that his father, Earl, hugged him 22 years earlier after winning his first green jacket is something that will be played long after we are all nothing but dust.
The Tiger Woods story was, and is, one of redemption and sacrifice. A story of an otherworldly talent who took everything life threw at him, hit bottom and went right back to the top. He put his life back together and found true joy in what really mattered -- being a dad.
“I think the kids are starting to understand how much this game means to me and some of the things I’ve done in the game,” Woods said after winning the 2019 Masters. “So, for them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.”
Woods went from a young superhero to a 40-year-old dad with a bald spot and a bad back and became so much more relatable than the superhuman golfer we’d become accustomed to. His recent transition from golfing immortal to Tiger Woods: Dad, was the cherry on top of a remarkable redemption story.
He is one of us. As much as people loved cheering for Tiger Woods the unstoppable force, this version made us feel something.
The last time we saw Woods on a golf course, he was teeing it up at the PNC Championship with 11-year-old Charlie Woods, donning matching outfits. There was Tiger, clad in red and black, looking on as his son, also wearing his dad’s famous Sunday colors, showed off a silky swing.
The last few years have appeared to be the happiest we’ve ever seen Woods, and him playing alongside Charlie was the peak of it.
Woods underwent a microdiscectomy, the fifth surgery on his back and first since his 2017 spinal fusion, shortly after the PNC Championship with Charlie. He told CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz on Sunday that he hoped he would be able to tee it up for the 2021 Masters, but then uttered another relatable quip: “I’ve only got one back.”
Whether Woods can author another chapter in sports’ greatest comeback story is not important right now. The thoughts shouldn’t be about whether he can once again stare down major championship fields, but about the recovery of Tiger Woods, the dad.
“It was about having my standard of life,” Woods said a few years back after finally being healthy following multiple back surgeries. "Forget golf. Can I actually participate in my kids' lives again? That was the main goal.”
Yes, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll ever see Woods make a run at a 16th major title or record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win. There’s no doubt he’ll try. Genius minds are notoriously restless. The boundaries always have to be pushed. There is always a next hurdle to clear. That’s what he’s always done and he’ll certainly try to bend reality to his will once again.
If the prognosis is good, he will return to competitive golf. But if he can’t, that’s OK.
If our lasting moment of Tiger, the legend, is hugging Charlie after winning his fifth green jacket, that’s OK. If what the future now holds for him is to be a golfing dad, one who beams with pride while watching Charlie fist pump after draining a birdie putt just like pops, then that’s all that matters.
Woods’ accident is the latest of in a year’s worth of heart-wrenching events to put things into perspective. That there’s no time like the present to focus on what truly matters.
What matters is not whether or not Tiger can tame the 16th hole at Augusta National on a Sunday again. What matters most is that he will have countless rounds of golf with his best friend, Charlie, in his future.
Since he turned pro in 1996, Tiger Woods gave everyone a front-row seat to the unimaginable. There are too many moments to count. The 1997 Masters romp, perfection at Pebble Beach in 2000, winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg, the club twirl at Harding Park in 2009, the 2018 Tour Championship victory and, of course, that 2019 Masters.
Woods has given us all of that. He made us dream, soar, tremble and roar.
If the next act involves one last comeback attempt, we’ll be there to watch, pray and cheer as he tries to do the unthinkable one last time.
But Tiger, having already completed the greatest comeback in sports history and having given us more moments to move us than any athlete in history, can rest and be at peace. If his competitive golfing career is over, we’ll have so many moments to remember and fall back on, with the 2019 Masters serving as the capstone to a career that made many of us think that anything truly was possible.
What comes next belongs to him, and him alone. Not to Tiger, golf’s greatest savant, but to Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, father and friend.