Tiger’s crash trumps the news cycle, but is his career over?
Tiger Woods suffered what could be career-ending leg injuries following a horrific car crash in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. — a stunning incident that dominated the news cycle Tuesday, on a level not seen since last January’s fatal helicopter crash in California that included NBA great Kobe Bryant and his daughter among its victims.
Even on a day when COVID-19 deaths continued to climb beyond a half-million Americans and when Congress held hearings about what went wrong in the fatal Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the public’s fascination with all things celebrity once again ruled the airwaves. Even former President Trump called in to Fox News’ PrimeTime at 7 p.m. program to talk about Woods, not politics.
Woods effectively stopped time on television, and then caused the clock to turn in a different direction.
Woods, of course, is not just any celebrity. The golfer is tied for the most career PGA tour wins and is second in most major victories with 14. And he is like few figures we’ve seen in the modern TV era, in terms of his ability to prompt even the most casual of fans to watch a golf tournament if he’s in position to win. For context, Woods’s first two Masters victories produced the highest final-round ratings in event history, drawing an incredible 44 million viewers in 1997 and 40 million in 2001, or approximately 50 percent above the overall average.
For more context, the 2020 Masters, where Tiger was never in contention, being 19 shots behind winner Dustin Johnson, drew 3.37 million viewers for its final round.
With Woods undoubtedly out for the 2021 Masters six weeks from now (and perhaps for the season, given how extensive his leg injuries requiring surgery appear to be), professional golf – and televised sports – will suffer a huge blow once again. Its crop of young players – the aforementioned Johnson, John Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas – are all excellent players. Big hitters. Relatively uncontroversial. But without Tiger in the mix, things become very uninteresting for casual fans.
Woods is 45 years old now. But his body – despite an incredible workout regimen – may feel even older and more vulnerable than before this crash. Dating back to his amateur days in 1994, he had tumor and scar removal from his knees. He’s had multiple knee and back surgeries and pinched nerve surgery throughout his 24-year pro career. He had come off yet another back surgery just a few weeks ago.
It’s part of what made his improbable Masters victory in 2019, at age 43, such a marvel to watch, and why so many people were rooting for him to capture glory at Augusta again this year. We always root for legends to find the fountain of youth one more time, just as we did when Jack Nicklaus won at age 46 in 1986.
Athletes across the world shared their support for Woods:
An emotional Justin Thomas reflects on the news of Tiger Woods’ crash:
“I just hope he’s alright. Just worried for his kids.”
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 23, 2021
Praying for my brother @TigerWoods as we all anxiously await more news.
Thinking of him and his entire family. https://t.co/jpWbI3cLvO
— Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) February 23, 2021
— 11Alive Sports (@11AliveSports) February 23, 2021
Prayers up for @TigerWoods
— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) February 23, 2021
The crash brought back the memory of the last time the world was shocked by Tiger Woods news off the golf course, in 2009. At the time, the world’s No. 1 player wasn’t considered controversial in any capacity. He was seen as the squeaky-clean husband and father who had dominated the golf world for a dozen years. Golfers in general stay out of trouble compared to other professional athletes, so why would Woods be any different?
But Woods has had vehicular problems before. In 2009, he struck a fire hydrant in the middle of the night near his home due to the effects of prescription drugs after a domestic dispute with his then-wife, Elin Nordegren; in 2017, he was found asleep at the wheel by Florida law enforcement.
Fortunately, this time local police in Rancho Palos Verdes indicate that Woods did not appear to be under the influence and was not impaired in any way.
Much like Woods’s career, which has endured many twists and turns, this crash may have simply been a matter of his vehicle losing control on a winding road in the mountains of Southern California, on a stretch that law officers said has been dangerous if traveling above the speed limit.
Tiger Woods. Michael Jordan. Lionel Messi. Tom Brady. It’s a very short list of people in the past 25 years who could make the casual fan stop and watch something they otherwise wouldn’t. And even fewer of them could make the news cycle stop in its tracks and divert to covering them entirely.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.