Tiger Woods should be able to walk and even return to pro golf, a pro golfer turned orthopedic surgeon says

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Meredith Cash
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"I think Tiger can walk again. I think Tiger can play golf again and return to the Tour," the PGA golfer turned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bill Mallon told Insider. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
  • Tiger Woods shattered his right ankle and suffered multiple leg fractures in a car crash Tuesday.

  • Dr. Bill Mallon thinks the golf legend will be able to walk, play golf, and return to the PGA Tour.

  • The former pro golfer, now an orthopedic surgeon, believes Woods' recovery will take about a year.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Tiger Woods may be down, but never count Tiger Woods out.

The golf legend was rushed into emergency surgery Tuesday morning after sustaining multiple leg fractures and shattering his right ankle in a scary rollover car crash in Los Angeles.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Though Woods' road to recovery will undoubtedly be arduous, one of the few people with experience both treating traumatic injuries and playing professional golf thinks the 45-year-old superstar will be capable of returning to the course and playing at an elite level.

'I think he can return to the Tour'

"I think Tiger can play golf again," Dr. Bill Mallon - a PGA golfer turned orthopedic surgeon - told Insider on Wednesday.

"And assuming he plays golf again - meaning he doesn't get an infection or severe arthritis in that ankle - I think he can return to the Tour," he added.

Woods' camp announced on Twitter on Wednesday morning that the golfer suffered a slew of "significant orthopaedic injuries" to his right leg, including "comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones," "additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle," and "trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue of the leg." So with the extent of the damage coming into scope, Insider asked Mallon to translate Woods' diagnosis in layman's terms.

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Woods. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Mallon spent four years competing on the PGA Tour and posted three top-10 finishes as a professional before leaving the links to pursue a career in medicine. A practicing orthopedic surgeon for roughly two decades, Mallon has since stepped away from the operating table to become editor of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, a leading publication in the orthopedics sphere.

"Tiger had an open fracture, which means that the bone came through the skin," Mallon said. "Theoretically, that means that's a contaminated fracture now because it's not within the body's tissue envelope. And when that occurs, the risk of infection is higher than on a closed fracture."

"But the risk of infection is low," he added. "I think the risk of infection for an open tibia fracture is down in the range of 1% to 2%. So it doesn't happen very often, but it's the thing we worry most about. And that's the one thing that could really delay any recovery or prevent him from getting a full recovery."

Tiger Woods
Woods. Getty/Jamie Squire

If all goes according to plan, and Woods doesn't face complications beyond his initial injuries, Mallon projects it'd take the five-time Masters champion roughly three months to get back on his feet. Getting back his golf game, however, requires a different timeline entirely.

Woods is expected to face a lengthy recovery

Mallon estimates that it'll take "at least a year" for Woods to bounce back from a major injury like this one.

Woods was already recovering from back surgery - his fifth - when his car crashed into a median and tumbled off the road. And even though Woods' more recent injuries are undoubtedly significant, Mallon described his prior back issues as "the biggest problem for him still long-term - more so than this injury."

"I think he can recover from this injury, but, you know, he's had five back surgeries, and, unfortunately, it's hard to recover from a back surgery," Mallon said. "After you've had five, you don't recover as well anymore. And plus, as you get older, you really don't recover as well."

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Woods. Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Still, there are obstacles to overcome relating to Woods' legs. Though fractures heal relatively quickly, he'll need to partake in extensive rehab to rebuild strength in his muscles and surrounding tissue well after his bones themselves have recovered.

Woods' "superb" physical condition for a 45-year-old will undoubtedly work in his favor as he attempts to come back from what is arguably the most devastating injury of his career thus far, Mallon said. But another, perhaps more surprising advantage Woods has is that he broke his right leg, not his left.

When a right-handed player like Woods swings his club, his right leg essentially operates as a pillar of support. His left ankle and knee, however, face torque as he drives his weight into the ball and whips the club head around at top speed. Plus, right-handers roll onto their left ankles at the tail end of each swing.

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Woods playing alongside his son, Charlie. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

"So your left ankle takes a lot more stress in a golf swing than your right ankle does," Mallon said. "I'm not saying your right ankle doesn't take some stress, but not nearly as much as the left ankle does. The left ankle absolutely needs more flexibility than the right ankle."

"He's better off having injured his right ankle than his left," he added. "And, yeah, if he'd injured his left, he would have had more trouble getting back the flexibility in the ankle."

Ultimately, Mallon thinks Woods will be able to return to the quality of life he enjoyed before Tuesday's crash. He predicted Woods would be able to walk again and would "be fine playing with his kids."

Returning to normality on the golf course will be a much taller task

In Mallon's experience, patients who experience traumatic injuries like these "almost never get back to normal, to 100%," but "may get to 98, 99%" if they're fortunate. When it comes to Woods returning to his competitive peak, Mallon is far less optimistic.

Tiger Woods
Woods after winning the 2019 Masters. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

"Will he be the Tiger of old? I think that's impossible," Mallon said, adding: "He's not returning to 2000, 2001 Tiger. He's not going to be that again. I can assure you of that.

"But, on the other hand, probably no golfer in the history of the game has ever been that."

Read the original article on Insider