The accident that seems to have shattered Tiger Woods’s right leg in almost all the places brings us an obvious comparison to a new historically great golfer, in addition to the one we’ve been slapping him up against all these years. Now, as he yet again contemplates the end of his meaningful golf career, he has gone from chasing Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead to replicating Ben Hogan. The great likelihood at this point is that he will be none of the above. He almost surely won’t get those last few major championships to match Nicklaus, he probably won’t break the record of 82 PGA Tour championships he shares with Snead, and he is 12 years older than Hogan was in 1949 when his own car was crushed by a bus.
If you choose to be a pedant about it, Woods is neither the youngest player to win a major tournament nor the oldest. He doesn’t have the most majors or the most tour wins. In a less metric category, he is almost surely the most electrifying golfer in history, but that might be changed when our sports viewing experience will be provided by a brain chip controlled by some underpaid intern in the basement of whatever replaces television networks. Mostly, though, he is just Tiger, and one of the things he creates in your brain is comparisons to other athletes in other sports. The moment you first heard about the crash but before you were told the injuries were not life-threatening, you probably had a brain flash about Kobe Bryant. If you were a superannuated golf fan or historian, you thought of Hogan and the crash outside El Paso that nearly killed him and his wife, Valerie. Now, you read about the grim litany of surgical procedures and you start to find parallels with Alex Smith, the Washington quarterback who needed 17 surgeries to save his own leg after a hideous injury in a 2018 game against Houston.
This is Woods’s 11th surgery in 12 years, the others for various knee and back complaints caused by the wear and tear of his golfing style, and it is also his second in 61 days—he had a fourth microdiscectomy on Dec. 23. If nothing else, he will be an all-inclusive chapter when ESPN decides to start publishing medical journals, six months before realizing that the corporate directive that reading is for old people is still in force and makes them videos behind a paywall.
You may decide among yourselves what cautionary tale this latest incident signifies, as long as you have the decency to keep the results of your polling to yourselves and never ever share them. If you needed Tiger Woods to remind you to wear your seat belt and not drive at excessive speed, you’re lucky to be reading anything.
But with all the assumptions about this catastrophic injury meaning the real end of Woods’s career as opposed to all the other times his demise has been predicted, there is at least a mild bit of uplift. If his days as an elite competitive athlete really are over, and you’ll know you’re a lousy human being if that’s the version of events you’re rooting for, his last event was playing in the PNC Championship, a parent-child event in which he was paired with his son, Charlie. It may not be The Masters, but it’s a far more satisfying way for a parent to go than the Waste Management Phoenix Open.