As the golf world faces the possibility that Tiger Woods will never return in competitive form after the serious car crash that left the 15-time major winner requiring lengthy surgery, Rory McIlroy has said there are “still a lot of other ways that he can affect the game in a great way”.
Woods remains in a California hospital after the accident in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The 45-year-old is said to be “awake and responsive” but damage to his right leg is significant. Rods, screws and pins have been inserted to stabilise the golfer’s “comminuted” and “open” injuries.
The Los Angeles county sheriff, Alex Villanueva, told CNN it is “nothing short of a miracle” that Woods survived. Villanueva, who later described the incident as “purely an accident” and also revealed that Woods will not face criminal charges, said: “We have seen accidents with far less obvious damage that are fatalities.”
Woods, who recently had back surgery for the fifth time, now faces a lengthy absence from golf at the very least. Speaking before the first World Golf Championship of the year, in Florida, McIlroy said: “He’s a human being at the end of the day. And he’s already been through so much. At this stage I think everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad. That’s the most important thing. Golf is so far from the equation right now, it’s not even on the map at this point.”
When pressed on the differences between tournament golf with and without Woods, McIlroy contemplated the future: “It’s inevitable that one day he won’t be a part of it, and that’s going to be just something that the game of golf and the Tour is going to have to deal with and adapt to. Obviously, hopefully he comes back and is able to play but if not, I think he’ll still be a part of the game in some way, whether it’s his design business, his foundation, hosting golf tournaments. It may be the end of seeing the genius at work with a club in his hand but there’s still a lot of other ways that he can affect the game in a great way.
“We’re very lucky that he’s still here. I feel like we should pay tribute to him every day for being on the PGA Tour and what he’s done for golf.”
McIlroy recalled having lunch with Woods in the spring of 2017, while the latter was struggling badly with back problems. Two years later, Woods won the Masters for the fifth time. McIlroy said: “I don’t think to this day people realise – a few of us out here do, Justin Thomas, Rickie [Fowler], Dustin [Johnson] and myself, the guys that are in Florida that have gotten a little bit closer with him – the struggle and the things he had to deal with to get to that point to win Augusta in 2019.”
Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, said: “I think that the only thing that really matters now is his wellbeing, his recovery, his family, the level of support that we provide to him.”