Will Tiger Woods ever return?
On Sept. 16, Woods underwent a second microdiscectomy surgery on his back. The first was performed on March 31, 2014.
But on Oct. 30, Team Tiger announced that Woods, winner of 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour events, underwent a follow-up procedure to that September back surgery to relieve discomfort. Woods’ neurosurgeon said he expects him to make a full recovery – but does that mean Woods will return to competitive golf? And if he does, will he be even more a shadow of himself than he has already shown to be the last few years?
Woods has his detractors, but he still draws a crowd. In August, Woods played in the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the first time. Galleries were not only noticeably larger, but TV ratings shot through the roof, increasing an average of about 190 percent for Saturday and Sunday coverage. Nobody can argue that Woods, despite his recent poor play, is still greatly in vogue, more than any other golfer on the PGA Tour.
His presence is vital to the game on several levels. But is he coming back? Is having two microdiscectomy surgeries in less than two years one too many?
Burak Ozgur, a Newport Beach, California-based neurosurgeon who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery, has never operated on Woods, but has performed microdiscectomy surgery many times and knows what Woods is facing in his recovery. Woods required the surgeries to correct two herniated discs, which cause painful pinched nerves, leading to numbness, tingling pain and weakness in the legs.
“Usually, it gets better on its own or with conservative care,” Ozgur added. “If the patient doesn’t get better and has weakness or other problems, he may opt for surgery.”
That would be Woods.
“Surgery is typically very successful. It can be done microscopically, which just means doing surgery through a microscope, which is less invasive,” Ozgur said, adding that patients are usually up and around faster, and face fewer complications, including infection.
While anybody can get a herniated disc, Ozgur says, golfers are more prone because of the twisting action that comes with swinging a golf club. How many times have we seen Woods almost literally swing out of his shoes?
“Repetitive twisting action can injure the disc and make it more prone to herniate,” Ozgur said.
Woods, who turns 40 on Dec. 30, called himself a “fighter” when describing his September surgery, and said he planned to return to golf in the early portion of the 2016 season. That remains to be seen, said Ozgur, who has treated many professional athletes.
“Every patient is different,” he stressed.
Golf fans hope Woods is back for The Masters in April. But Ozgur said athletes who have endured two microdiscectomy surgeries, not to mention a follow-up surgery, usually take longer to return to their sports than if they would have had just one microdiscectomy.
Woods may return eventually, but he won’t be the same – not that he has been the same the last few years. But any golf fans hoping for Woods to find his swing and his mojo again will probably be disappointed, Ozgur said.
“I doubt he will ever be good as he was. It’s unlikely that he will find the greatness that he had before,” he added.
Ozgur is confident there will be breakthrough technology in the near future that will allow surgeons to heal herniated discs and other injuries faster. He pointed to stem cell research.
“We can regrow the disc in a petri dish,” he said. “We can also regrow ears and fingers. The problem is we don’t know how to keep them alive right now. But we will figure it out.”
Unfortunately, the technology will be too late for Tiger.
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