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Couch: Tiger To Face His Toughest Challenge Yet

Going way too fast and out of control down a winding road, he hit the center median, flipped over into the opposing lane, took out a sign that said “Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates,’’ kept rolling and rolling for hundreds of feet, hit the other curb and uprooted a tree then settled into the brush on the other side of the street.

Thanks to a seat belt, a deployed airbag and modern automotive safety technology, Tiger Woods is still alive after his single-SUV crash Tuesday morning.

We don’t know what caused the crash. We look at a car smashed on the side of the road and think of the picture of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter in a similar heap.

“It was very fortunate that Mr. Woods was able to come out of this alive,’’ said LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, who got the first look at Woods while he was lying calmly in the mess. “I asked him what his name was. He told his name was Tiger.’’

We don’t know. We don’t know the extent of Woods’ injuries, inside or out. We don’t know how hurt he may have been for years. He’s always recovering.

The Los Angeles Times said he had two fractured legs and a smashed ankle. Later, Tiger’s team would issue a statement saying he had “undergone a long surgical procedure on his lower right leg and ankle.” 

As the day went on and Woods went into surgery, the questions seemed to go from whether he would survive to whether he would walk again to how long his recovery would be to whether he’ll play golf again.

If you’ve heard rumors or speculation, just forget them for now. They are reckless. It’ll come out.

So it’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions. But it’s hard not to feel bad and see tragedy in what is likely the smashed conclusion of a golf career that once represented hope and togetherness. Oprah called Woods “America’s Son.’’

It just shouldn’t have ended this way. And why has Woods’ entire life seemingly been barreling down a hill, out of control, toward a ditch?

We don’t know. But I think when someone’s childhood is professionalized, aimed for one thing from 3 or 4 years old, and all the other hurdles of life are cleared out of the way, then even in the rare circumstance that a prodigy hits it big, he has not developed the skills to deal with the bends and twists in the road.

I know, you can ask: Then why did Venus and Serena Williams turn out OK? I think they beat the odds.

As a columnist, I got to cover Woods when he was young and fresh and emerging. I was at his first Masters win. And then the Oprah people invited me and another Chicago writer to watch the taping of her show with Woods in Harpo studios in Chicago. She shook our hands, showed us the painted lunch room in Harpo and directed another woman to give us a tour.

Oprah asked Tiger what he considers himself, with his multiracial parents. He said that as a kid he had invented a word: Cablinasian. A combo for Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian.

The show wasn’t going to air for several days, which left me as the one who would decide how Woods’ made-up word would be spelled throughout history. The story that the new young, black golf champion didn’t call himself black made national news, and the Oprah people called me to say she was not happy with me, that she wasn’t expecting a story like that. When that show finally did air, it had gotten such national pub that it did even bigger than Oprah’s usual massive ratings. They did a follow-up show. Oprah’s people called back to say I was invited back any time I want.

I got to see Woods fight off Sergio Garcia for a major in suburban Chicago and then in a non-major walk up the 18th fairway at Cog Hill where thousands of fans broke through the ropes, then lined up behind Woods and walked up the fairway behind him.

Woods had it all. But while we think celebrities’ lives are all out in the open, we don’t really know. 

So while the buildup of his career was meteoric, he has spent years recovering — mentally, physically, spiritually — from his horrible marital problems, his bad back and knees, his DUI.

It seemed like Woods, now 45, had found peace, and he introduced us to his son, who looked and golfed like a mini-Tiger. That kid is adorable.

A few days ago, he told Jim Nantz in an interview that he hoped his back surgery would be healed in time for this spring’s Masters.

“But I’ve got to get there first,’’ he said. “A lot of it is based on my surgeons and my doctors and my therapists and making sure I do it correctly, because this is the only back I got.’’

It’s sad to think of the pain Woods must be in now. You wonder how long it has been going on.

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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