I had a plan for the sunset of Tiger Woods' professional golf career.
I had it all mapped out in my head and I was going to submit it to him like it was a movie script, because, really, that's how he's played the game: Like an unbelievable movie. Like an aging and broken Babe Ruth hitting three home runs in one of his last games. Like Roy Hobbs in "The Natural," knocking the cover off the ball. The icon and his moment.
My script went something like this:
He's currently 45 years old with 15 majors, just three shy of reigning king Jack Nicklaus. Woods also has 82 career PGA victories, tying him with Sam Snead for the career lead.
But numerous back and knee surgeries, an ensuing opioid addiction and some billowing private demons slowed Tiger's quest to catch Jack. It's amazing how many surgeries Woods has endured for somebody who excelled at a championship level in a non-contact sport.
Then came a Hollywood moment when he won his fifth Masters tournament (and 15th major) two years ago, ending an 11-year major title victory drought. I'm not sure many people saw that coming, but the victory resurrected hope in many of his fans that Tiger was still on track to reach 18. A difficult chore, for sure. But that's how high Jack had set the bar.
In my script, Tiger would somehow win two more majors in the next five years. Who would bet against him? It was certainly plausible. Tiger had become inconsistent as he got older, but no less competitive. I'm sure there were two more majors somewhere in his golf bag. Then, at age 50, he would join the PGA Champions Tour. Gloriously, he would win his 18th major – fittingly the Masters – as a senior player in the way that Tom Watson nearly won the British Open in 2009 when he was 59 years old.
It would be the exclamation point of a somehow star-crossed career. The icon and his moment.
But my script didn't include a rollover single-vehicle accident that probably came closer than we know to the amputation of his right leg. When I saw the pictures of the wrecked vehicle Tiger was driving Tuesday morning when he lost control, I was astonished. The wreck didn't look survivable.
We learned the next day that a rod had been inserted in his right tibia to stabilize the breaks in his leg. Pins and screws held his foot together. The fear of bone infection in the first 24 hours of his recovery would determine whether or not he kept his leg. Fear of infection still might be an issue.
The legs are everything to an athlete, maybe even more so than his core. The legs are the engine that provides the power, the stability, the balance needed to perform. The right leg to a right-handed golfer is all of that.
So now Tiger's future in golf is a question mark and not an exclamation point. Everything depends on his recovery and the physical therapy he'll receive. And golf? Will the leg be strong enough to handle the torque generated by his swing? Will there be pain in every step he takes? Will there be enough endurance to play four rounds in a tournament?
Tiger has already left his mark on the game. He brought athleticism to the golf course, bringing power to go along with precision. Golf courses had to be redesigned and 'Tiger proofed" to make tournaments competitive for the other players. The technology behind golf clubs and golf balls were altered.
Club houses were also altered as Woods, a person of color, broke many of golf's elitist social barriers. I'm not sure Tiger ever wanted to be a messenger of social change, but he quietly carried that burden with dignity, too.
And attendance swelled at golf tournaments that Tiger was in. So did TV viewership. Golf was no longer a peripheral sport when Tiger was playing.
I guess I'll have to rewrite my script. It might resemble the Ben Hogan story. Hogan recovered from a devastating auto accident in the prime of his golf career in 1949 when a Greyhound bus materialized out of the fog and plowed into his vehicle. It took nearly a year before Hogan stepped on a golf course again, but he went on to win six more majors on a limited schedule and while playing in pain.
We don't know where Tiger will be in a year, much less next week. And while we're not there yet, golf without Tiger Woods is a rude and sad possibility.
But mostly sad.
My favorite Tiger commercials. He was just goofing off when the first one was filmed.