How Tiger Woods Got Back to Winning After 4 Surgeries to Fix His Severe Back Pain
Tiger Woods considered himself a “walking miracle” in April when he returned to golf after years of back pain so severe that he needed four intensive surgeries. And he proved it on Sunday, when he won the PGA Tour Championship, his 80th PGA win overall, and first in five years.
Woods’ long journey back to health — which was interrupted by his sex scandals, a DUI and a stint in rehab — started in April 2014, when he announced he would miss the Masters for the first time in his professional career after undergoing his first back surgery to repair a pinched nerve.
But the surgery wasn’t enough, and in Sept. 2015, Woods had to withdraw from the Wyndham Championship for a second microdiscectomy surgery to remove a disc fragment that caused another pinched nerve in his back. The minimally invasive procedure takes out the small part of the bone that broke off and caused pain.
“This is certainly disappointing, but I’m a fighter,” Woods said in a statement at the time. “I’ve been told I can make a full recovery, and I have no doubt that I will.”
Less than a month later, he had to undergo another procedure — and a third back surgery — to correct lingering pain from the microdiscectomy.
“It’s one of those things that had to be done,” Woods said.
He intended to heal and make his big comeback then, but the pain persisted, and he spent all of 2016 withdrawing from various tournaments.
That continued through the start of 2017, until Woods announced in April that he had undergone a fourth back surgery “to alleviate ongoing pain in his back and leg,” his team said in a statement.
This surgery was far more specialized, an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, performed by Dr. Richard Guyer at the Texas Back Institute. Woods and his doctors decided it was necessary after other attempts at fixing his pain were largely unsuccessful.
“I could no longer live with the pain I had. We tried every possible non-surgical route, and nothing worked,” he wrote in a blog post in May 2017. “I had good days and bad days, but the pain was usually there, and I couldn’t do much. Even lying down hurt. I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope.”
But after the surgery, he felt “instant nerve relief.”
It’s hard to express how much better I feel,” Woods said. “I haven’t felt this good in years.”
He still had challenges to overcome — later that month, on May 29, Woods was arrested for a DUI, and had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC in his system. He said that he had to learn how to “manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder,” and entered an in-patient rehab treatment.
Woods’ comeback really started at the beginning of 2018, and he held the lead with eight holes to go at the British Open in July. Now, he has capped off the season with a huge win.
“He’s gotten things together,” said a PGA source close to Woods. “He’s living a great life.”