DEREK LAWRENSON: A year on from the Tiger Woods car crash, will it cost him his career?

One year on from the horrific car crash that drew their genteel Los Angeles suburb to the attention of the whole world, all is quiet once more along Hawthorne Boulevard in Rolling Springs.

The welcome sign so incongruously uprooted when Tiger Woods’s SUV crossed the central reservation and careered down an embankment has been replaced. A notice stapled to a tree advertises a forthcoming auction of celebrity sports memorabilia, an ironic anniversary postscript to the celebrity sports debris scattered all over this pristine neighbourhood on that fateful February day.

On a postcard perfect Hollywood Saturday afternoon, one or two residents were out walking their dogs and one or two more were tending their gardens. ‘You’ll easily be able to see where it happened,’ said one.

A year after his car crash, Tiger Woods will be back in Los Angeles at the Genesis Invitational

‘When you get past the ravine, just look for the poor cactus tree.’ Struck hard by Tiger’s runaway car, it is indeed in a poor state, its limbs suffering like those of the man who had to be cut from the wreckage of his top of the line luxury vehicle.

Now Tiger is back in the city of angels this week, as host of the Genesis Invitational. This was the storied event where he made his PGA Tour debut 30 years ago at the age of 16 and one that will now always be inextricably linked with what happened on the morning after Max Homa holed the winning putt in 2021.

Woods didn’t play at Riviera last year, as he sought to overcome yet more back problems. On the Monday, he set off early to complete a sponsor’s day at another Los Angeles golf club.

He was running late as he entered Hawthorne Boulevard and, according to the subsequent police report, driving too fast. One local sheriff said he may have been going as fast as 87mph, more than twice the legal limit. At that speed, he certainly wouldn’t have had time to register the yellow warning signposts dotted all along the road as it goes into a steep downward incline.

The 46-year-old had to be cut from the wreckage after his runaway SUV hit a tree

The 46-year-old had to be cut from the wreckage after his runaway SUV hit a tree

Drive down it, as it winds its way linking the well-heeled locals to the central arteries of city life, and you can visualise how it could all unfold. Certainly, it would only take a momentary lack of concentration if you were speeding recklessly.

As Woods admitted months later, he was very lucky the dreadful sequence of events didn’t cost him his life. We still don’t know if it will cost him what’s left of his career, a question that’s always appeared secondary for much of the past 12 months when set alongside more primal considerations such as whether he would be able to walk again.

It was in December where he spoke for the first time in public, at an end-of-year select event he hosts in the Bahamas, where he detailed in graphic terms the months where he was unable to move from his bedroom and then the painful rehab.

He admitted he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through what it would take to return his game to the elite level, even if he did get the medical thumbs up that his stricken right leg was up to the task.

The 15-time major champion is expected to give an update on his future plans

The 15-time major champion is expected to give an update on his future plans

Two weeks later, there were more encouraging signs, as he took part alongside his son Charlie in a fun parent and child exhibition event in Florida. There was enough evidence that his good shots were still on the money, but plenty of other signs of the tough road that still lay in front of him. He couldn’t walk more than a hole without being in considerable pain, never mind 72 holes in four days, and Tiger has made it clear that there are no circumstances under which he would consider playing in a major or PGA Tour event while riding in a cart, even if given special dispensation. ‘That’s not who I am,’ he said.

Nine weeks on, at Riviera over the next few days we should get an update, and a firm indication as to whether his clear wish to play in the 150th Open at St Andrews in July is a possibility.

It’s a clear sign of the respect in which the 15-time major champion is held by this generation that every member of the world’s top 10 has gathered this week. You probably have to go back to the golden days of this event in the 1950s and 60s, when it was known as the Los Angeles Open and practically owned by Ben Hogan, who also nearly lost his life in a car accident, to find the last time that happened.

A few of his friends, like Justin Thomas, will know what’s going on with Tiger. But, one year on from the car crash that sent shockwaves around the globe, the majority will be feeling the same mixture of anticipation and anxiousness as the rest of us as we await a progress report. 

It’s a wild Ryder in Texas

No event in golf suffered like the WM Phoenix Open for the absence of fans. Last week they were back, all 800,000 of them, to provide their usual exotic kaleidoscope of colour and enthusiasm that makes it a tournament like no other.

If you’ve not seen the video on social media of what happened after the wonderfully named Sam Ryder had a hole in one at the par three 16th, where more than 100,000 fans went nuts in the stadium setting, throwing their beer cans on to the green, make sure to do so. 

It’s not golf as another Samuel Ryder knew it, but no worse for that.

Thousands of fans hurled their drinks into the air after Ryder scored the hole in one, leading to one reporter to joke about a rain delay

Thousands of fans hurled their drinks into the air after Ryder scored the hole in one, leading to one reporter to joke about a rain delay 

The tournament, won by Ryder Cup star Scottie Scheffler, was also the coming out party for exciting 24 year old Californian Sahith Theegala. 

Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, he led for three days before settling for a tie for third with Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele and defending champion Brooks Koepka.

While all these players boarded private jets to Los Angeles this week Theegala, who still lives with his parents, drove for six hours in his Volkswagen Passat. No doubt the riches heading his way will spoil him eventually but he’s a blast of refreshing normality in the meantime.

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