Inside Tiger Woods’ health issues: PGA Tour legend’s troubling Las Vegas photos follow multiple surgeries, a nearly fatal car crash, and addictions to sex and prescription medications

June 7, 2024

It’s been nearly three full decades since an 18-year-old Tiger Woods captured the imagination of the golf world by erasing a six-shot deficit in what is believed to be the biggest comeback in US amateur tournament history.

He’s since gone on to win 82 PGA Tour events, including 15 major championships, so it can be difficult to remember a time when Woods’ place in golf history was ever in doubt.

But that was just the case following his historic win at the 1994 US Amateur championship after doctors removed two benign tumors and some scar tissue from behind Woods’ left knee. It would be the first of about a dozen major medical procedures for Woods, who has battled everything from back and knee issues to addictions to painkillers and sex.

Since nearly losing his right leg in a 2021 car crash, Woods has played sparingly, focusing on the majors while resting his 48-year-old body during less prestigious tournaments.

Now, after unsettling footage of a beleaguered Woods surfaced at a charity poker tournament in Las Vegas, is looking back at his troubling medical history. 

Tiger Woods walks to the fifth tee during the second round of the 2024 PGA ChampionshipTiger Woods burst onto the golf scene in 1994 before quietly undergoing his first knee surgery

Knee surgeries, a fused ankle, and a microdiscectomy are just some of the medical procedures that have kept Woods upright as he enters his 50s.

‘Some days, I just feel really good,’ he said in April. ‘Other days, not so much.’

Woods’ injury history began with a pair of procedures aimed at removing a benign tumor, scar tissue, a cyst and fluid from his knee, but quickly escalated as the long-time Nike pitchman began facing structural issues with his bones and joints.

Few remember his shoulder issues from 2006 as he went on to win eight tournaments including two majors, but the world’s No. 1 golfer ruptured his ACL in 2007, and although he declined surgery at the time, Woods quickly became a regular on the operating table.

He underwent knee surgery two days after a runner-up finish at the 2008 Masters, only to have his ACL repaired two months later. Those injuries, as well as a torn Achilles tendon he endured in 2010, brought an early end to his 2008 season.

Woods failed to win a major in 2009, and things only got worse in November, when he drove his Cadillac Escalade SUV into a fire hydrant, a tree, and several hedges near his home near Orlando.

Although he only suffered minor facial lacerations, suspicion over the crash soon ignited a media frenzy. 

It was just two days earlier that the National Enquirer accused Woods of having an extramarital affair with nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel. Following the collission, rumors quickly began swirling that the crash was somehow connected to his alleged infidelity. 

Subsequent reports revealed that Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren were engaged in a physical altercation that began when she allegedly discovered text messages between her husband and other women. Nordegren reportedly threw a phone at Woods, chipping one of his teeth, before pursuing him with a golf club in hand.

Woods, who told officers he had taken sleeping pills that night, reportedly attempted to escape in his SUV, only to have Nordegren follow him in a golf cart. 

Neighbors ultimately found Woods unconscious and bloody before calling 911.

Golfer Tiger Woods poses with girlfriend Elin Nordegren during the 2002 Ryder Cup

The couple initially claimed it was a normal car accident, but following reports of Woods’ infidelities, the full scope of his sex addiction came into focus.

Reports at the time claimed he confessed to sleeping with around 120 women during his five-year marriage to Nordegren. Woods was even accused of having sex with his neighbor’s 21-year-old daughter, whom he met when she was just a teenager.

The mushrooming scandal resulted in Woods taking a sabbatical and reportedly receiving treatment for sex addiction at a clinic in Mississippi.

When he returned to golf, Woods’ injury issues quickly resurfaced, as did a number of other problems. He switched swing coaches, battled neck, knee and ankle issues, and outside of a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Masters, failed to challenge for any title that season.

he National Enquirer accused Woods of having an affair with Rachel Uchitel (pictured)

Back surgeries sidelined Woods for 2015-16 and all but one event the following season, but he appeared to turn a corner in 2017 with a revolutionary spinal procedure known as anterior lumbar interbody fusion.

‘The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain,’ Woods said in a 2017 statement. ‘When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.’

Unfortunately, with so many surgeries, Woods’ habit of dulling his pain with prescription medication was beginning to take its toll. For years, he had been able to keep his problem under wraps, but when Florida police found him asleep at the wheel of his car in 2017, Woods was booked for DUI and the issue soon became a national discussion. 

A subsequent toxicology report found painkillers, sleep medication and an ingredient active in marijuana in his system at the time of his arrest.

He ultimately avoided a DUI conviction by agreeing to enter a diversion program.

‘I realize now it was a mistake to do this without medical assistance,’ he said in a 2017 statement. ‘I am continuing to work with my doctors, and they feel I’ve made significant progress.’

Tiger Woods appears in his mugshot following his 2017 DUI arrestTiger Woods rubs cream on his leg in 2023 following several surgeries on the limb

Remarkably, Woods bounced back from the arrest and briefly appeared poised to recapture his throne atop the PGA Tour. 

He won the Tour Championship in 2018 and the Masters the following season, all while golf fans marveled at his new form.

‘It’s almost miraculous,’ Jack Zigler, president of the International Society for the Advancement of Spinal Surgery, told the Washington Post in 2019. ‘On the one hand, you have somebody who’s in great physical condition and extremely well motivated — it’s the ideal patient.

‘But on the other hand, he’s going back to an unbelievable level of function. The likelihood you could ever get back there is small.’

‘It’s nothing short of amazing,’ agreed Wellington Hsu, a professor of orthopedic surgery and neurological surgery at Northwestern University. ‘I never thought having a lumbar fusion would be compatible with return to play in golf, and I’m just talking about returning to play at a high level, not winning the Masters by any stretch of the imagination.

‘When he had his surgery done, I had a lot of questions about what his prognosis was. I was probably giving as bleak of a prognosis as anyone could, just to get back to the sport.’

Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies gather evidence from Woods’ crash scene in 2021

But the good times couldn’t last.

He underwent a fifth microdiscectomy in 2021, and one month later was involved in a single-vehicle accident near a tournament in Los Angeles. Woods, the driver and only person hurt in the wreck, rolled his SUV before suffering major leg injuries.

Doctors even weighed amputation before finding a way to keep Woods intact.

‘I’m very lucky, very lucky,’ Woods told a crowd in February of 2022. ‘As a lot of you guys know, I didn’t know if I was going to have the right leg or not. So, to be able to have my right leg still here, it’s huge. I still have a lot of issues with it, but it’s mine and I’m very thankful for that.’

He made his return at the 2022 Masters, where he was noticeably limping en route to a 47th-place finish.

Since then, Woods has undergone a subtalar fusion procedure to ‘address his post-traumatic arthritis’ in his fractured ankle.

Tiger Woods shared a picture of himself on the comeback trail following surgery in 2022During a social media interview with poker great Phil Hellmuth, the 48-year-old Woods looked tired and clammy with red, nearly bloodshot eyesWoods talks with Poker great Phil HellmuthWoods is pictured alongside poker great Phil Ivey before starting his US Open preparation

This week, it’s business as usual for Woods as he prepares for the upcoming US Open in North Carolina. But that’s a dramatic departure from his weekend in Las Vegas, where the golf legend looked tired and clammy during a social media interview with poker great Phil Hellmuth.

His physical appearance aside, Woods stayed on message by telling Hellmuth about the educational opportunities his charity helped create for young people: ‘All of a sudden they’re in college flourishing. Going to Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Yale and going to amazing places doing amazing things.’

But in spite of his message, Woods’ fans reacted with concern

‘Can we be real for a second here?’ one fan asked online. ‘Is there nobody close enough to him in his camp that can step in and get him some real help? Somebody in his family? Anyone?’

‘No one wants to see him like this. It sucks.’

For now, Woods remains committed to the PGA Tour and his own golf career, but with his mounting health issues as well his son Charlie’s blossoming career, the sport’s biggest star is starting mull retirement.

‘I don’t know when that day is, when that day comes,’ Woods said in April. ‘But I still think that I can [play]. 

‘I haven’t got to that point where I don’t think I [can].’