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Tiger Woods Injured in Serious Car Accident

The greatest golfer of his generation sustained leg injuries that, along with a back surgery in January, could raise questions about the future of his career.

For Tiger Woods, it was a resounding comeback. After a back injury that had seemed destined to end his career, he won the Masters Tournament in 2019, a thrilling return to form that captivated the nation.

But after a year of fits and starts that yielded no major victories, he announced last month that he had undergone another spinal procedure that would keep him out of competition until later this year.

Then came the single-vehicle accident on Tuesday in which his S.U.V. ran off the road and landed on a hillside near Los Angeles, causing leg injuries that required Mr. Woods to undergo hours of surgery.

It was another devastating episode for Mr. Woods — who burst onto the national scene as a child and is the greatest golfer of his generation — and raises questions about his ability to make yet another comeback.

In recent years, Mr. Woods, who has won 15 major championships, second in the sport’s history to Jack Nicklaus’s 18, has talked extensively about the limitations his previous surgeries and injuries have caused.

They have severely reduced the amount of time he can practice and have often disrupted the flow and power of a once revered golf swing. For several of the past few seasons, Mr. Woods could be seen wincing after every few shots, and he frequently struggled to lean over and retrieve his golf ball from the cup after completing a hole.

His accident incited an outpouring across sports and beyond.

On Twitter, Mr. Nicklaus wrote of his and his wife’s anguish. “Barbara and I just heard about Tiger’s accident, and like everyone else, we are deeply concerned,’’ Nicklaus’s post said. “We want to offer him our heartfelt support and prayers at this difficult time. Please join us in wishing Tiger a successful surgery and all the best for a full recovery.”

Justin Thomas, a trusted confidant of Mr. Woods who frequently joins him for pretournament practice rounds, appeared stunned by the news.

“I’m sick to my stomach,” Thomas said as he prepared for the Workday Championship, a PGA Tour event in Central Florida set to begin Thursday. “It hurts to see one of your closest friends get in an accident. I just hope he’s all right. I’m just worried for his kids, I’m sure they’re struggling.”

Mr. Woods’s S.U.V. being towed after the crash.
Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The incident happened about 7 a.m. Pacific time near the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, a coastal Los Angeles suburb, on a twisting and winding stretch where the speed limit is 45 m.p.h. Two days earlier, Mr. Woods had hosted a PGA Tour event at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles and stayed to tape a promotional spot for Golf Digest.

Mr. Woods was traveling at a “greater speed than normal” but did not seem impaired, Alex Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff, said at a news conference, adding that “there was no effort to draw blood, for example, at the hospital.”

Mr. Woods lost control of the vehicle on Hawthorne Boulevard, hitting a curb and a tree before rolling several times, the sheriff said.

“That area has a high frequency of accidents,” Mr. Villanueva said. “It’s not uncommon.”

.

With 82 PGA Tour victories, Mr. Woods is tied for the most ever with Sam Snead.

But Mr. Woods has been hobbled by injuries in recent years. He has had five major back operations and three knee operations, which have derailed his ability to compete for years at a time.

His injuries in the car accident would seem to create a substantial obstacle to returning to full form, a prospect already in question ahead of the Masters in April.

In 2009, at the height of a career in which Mr. Woods was expected to demolish every record in his sport, news reports about serial marital infidelity cost him his marriage, and he was shunned by many in the golf community. In swift succession, his myriad corporate sponsors dropped him. The scandal caused him to take a lengthy hiatus from golf. When he returned to competition, he struggled to find his old form, a complication that coincided with the onset of his physical ailments.

On the same golf courses where he had long been greeted by wild cheering, his presence was instead met with an eerie quiet. As time passed, being snubbed was far from Mr. Woods’s only problem at tournaments. He was often viewed as a limping afterthought. A young breed of golfers now controlled the top of the leaderboard.

His downfall eventually had a defining act, a middle-of-the-night arrest in May 2017 that revealed an opioid addiction. Mr. Woods was taken into custody by the police after he was found alone and asleep in his car on the side of a road with the engine running.

Typical of his career arc, Mr. Woods’s resurrection ended up being as dramatic and attention-grabbing.

At the 2019 Masters, golf’s most watched event, Mr. Woods was not one of the pretournament favorites to win but he became a final-round contender. In the crucible of the event’s final holes, as his rivals withered under the pressure, Mr. Woods found the inner resolve that had been his trademark. He birdied four of the final five holes to claim his fifth Masters title. When his final putt dropped, he celebrated with a primal scream that seemed to be matched by the thousands of fans encircling the 18th green.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Just two years earlier, Mr. Woods had ranked as low as 1,119th in the world. His comeback, especially considering his travails off the course, may have been the greatest in sports history.

Leaving the green, Mr. Woods lifted his son, Charlie, and his daughter, Sam, into his arms — a gesture that was a near repeat of the embrace Mr. Woods’s father, Earl, had given his son after the 1997 Masters, Mr. Woods’s first major victory.

He continued to be competitive with his peers in 2019, winning one more event, but the pandemic-shortened 2020 golf season took place with Mr. Woods often absent. Other than a tie for ninth in mid-January, he did not finish higher than a tie for 37th and appeared in just 10 events.

Mr. Woods has not played competitively since December. In January, he underwent a procedure on his back called a microdiscectomy, which was performed to remove a pressurized disc fragment that was pinching a nerve. On Sunday, while acting as the host of the Genesis Invitational PGA Tour event in Southern California, Mr. Woods was interviewed during the broadcast of the tournament. He said he had begun practicing and appeared at ease, smiling and joking with CBS announcers about his progress from the recent operation. But he offered no timetable for his return to competitive golf.

The Masters, though, remained central on Mr. Woods’s calendar. Asked whether he would compete in the event in April, Mr. Woods replied: “God, I hope so. I’ve got to get there first.” He added that he was “feeling fine, a little bit stiff” and was awaiting another M.R.I. scan to evaluate his progress. In the meantime, he said, he had been “still doing the mundane stuff that you have to do for rehab, the little things before you can start gravitating toward something a little more.”

Mr. Woods conceded that surgeons may have only so many more ways to help him. “This is the only back I’ve got,” he said. “I don’t have much more wiggle room there.”

Doug Mills/The New York Times

At the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, Mr. Woods tied for 38th place. In the wake of the final round of the event, he said of his physical infirmities: “No matter how hard I try, things just don’t work the way they used to. And no matter how much I push and ask of this body, it just doesn’t work at times.”

At the Rolling Hills Country Club near Los Angeles on Monday, pictures on social media showed Mr. Woods interacting with various celebrities, including the former N.B.A. player Dwyane Wade. During the function, Mr. Woods gave players golf tips and some instruction but was not swinging a golf club.

Douglas Morino, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Alan Blinder, Kevin Draper and Gillian R. Brassil contributed reporting.

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