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The luxury sport-utility vehicle was moving fast along twisty Hawthorne Boulevard when its driver lost control, plowing into the center divider, smashing the “Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates” sign to bits and slamming into a curb and a tree.
The 2021 Genesis GV80 rolled and rolled. When it finally came to a stop about 30 yards off the road, it was lying on its side, so damaged that its doors could not be opened. There were no skid marks on the street, no sign of braking.
Firefighters carefully extricated golf star Tiger Woods from the SUV he’d been driving Tuesday morning as he headed from a Rancho Palos Verdes resort to the Rolling Hills Country Club for a photo and video shoot. They needed an ax and a prying tool to pull Woods through the windshield.
It was just after 7 a.m. The sun was shining. And the 45-year-old’s future in the sport that made him a household name was suddenly an enormous question mark.
Woods was already recovering from his fifth back surgery when he got behind the wheel Tuesday morning. By the time he was pulled from the vehicle, he was unable to stand.
One of his ankles was shattered, according to a source familiar with his treatment. He had two leg fractures.
Woods was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where he underwent "a long surgical procedure" on his lower right leg and ankle, according to a statement the golf legend released on Twitter late Tuesday. Doctors had to insert a rod into his leg and placed screws into his foot and ankle, according to the statement, which described Woods as "awake, responsive and recovering."
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident.
“Mr. Woods was not able to stand under his own power,” Gonzalez said. Woods had to be strapped to a backboard before emergency responders loaded him into an ambulance for the drive to the trauma unit at Harbor-UCLA.
“I spoke to him,” Gonzalez said. “I asked him what his name was. He told me his name was Tiger, and at that moment, I immediately recognized him.”
Woods is “lucky to be alive,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said late Tuesday. The golfer was the only person in the SUV, Villanueva said, which was traveling at a “relatively greater speed than normal” in an area that “has a high frequency of accidents.”
Villanueva said there was no evidence that Woods was impaired when he crashed.
Although Tuesday's wreck was the third time Woods was involved in a high-profile vehicle incident, it was by far the most serious. The first two did more damage to his reputation; this one could end his career.
In 2009, as he backed his Cadillac SUV out of his driveway in a gated Florida community, he struck a fire hydrant and slammed into a neighbor's tree. Eight years later, he was arrested in Jupiter, Fla., after police officers found him asleep at the wheel of his car. Woods later said that incident was caused by an "unexpected reaction to prescribed medications."
At a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said Woods was conscious and stable at the scene of the crash but was taken to the nearest trauma center because rolling a car is considered a trauma-level injury.
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, confirmed that the golfer “suffered multiple leg injuries," adding, "We thank you for your privacy and support."
The PGA star was in Los Angeles as the host of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club, a golf tournament that concluded Sunday. Woods did not play in the event, because he was recovering from back surgery, but told CBS announcer Jim Nantz in an interview during the final round that he hoped to play the Masters in April.
“God, I hope so. I’ve got to get there first,” Woods said in the interview. “A lot of it is based on my surgeons and doctors and therapist and making sure I do it correctly. This is the only back I’ve got; I don’t have much more wiggle room left.”
Woods stayed in Los Angeles County after the Genesis Invitational to participate in a two-day shoot with Golf Digest/GolfTV. On Monday, a smiling Woods spent time with retired NBA star Dwyane Wade and comedian David Spade — both of whom documented the gathering on social media — at Rolling Hills Country Club.
A source familiar with the investigation said Woods was staying at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes and left there early Tuesday to head to the Rolling Hills Country Club, about 20 minutes away, for filming. Golf Digest confirmed that Woods was on his way to the country club for an additional photo and video shoot when the crash occurred.
Woods lost control of the SUV on a curvy, steep stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard, a major road that cuts through the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where signs warn trucks to use lower gears when traveling downhill. The road was closed Tuesday as deputies investigated. A red tow truck was seen driving up Hawthorne toward the crash site at about 1:30 p.m.
Sheriff’s deputies were photographing the scene and were set to take measurements and detail the wreckage before it was towed away. The front end of the SUV was heavily damaged, and the windshield frame had been removed where Woods was extracted from the vehicle.
Investigators were trying to determine whether other vehicles were on the road at the time and might have played a role in the crash. Data can also be extracted from the vehicle’s computer system, officials said.
Asked about the numerous deputies on the scene, examining the wreckage and documenting the crash site, Villaneuva said, “Any time there are injuries, an extensive investigation is required." He said it could take “days to several weeks” to complete the investigation.
Donnie Nelson, a resident of Rolling Hills, said that stretch of Hawthorne is the site of dangerous accidents once or twice a year.
“Most of the time, trucks come down the hill and lose their brakes,” he said.
Nelson said he knows at least one person who was seriously injured by a garbage truck on the hill. The speed limit is 45 mph, but “cars fly by you here,” he said.
Bob Fong, 67, lives on Blackhorse Road, just north of where the crash occurred.
He noticed police cars at the intersection Tuesday morning and thought, “It must have been some big celebrity that crashed.”
Fong knows how tricky the steep curves on Hawthorne Boulevard can be — so much so that near the crash site, there is a runoff lane for use in emergencies.
“It’s a heavily trafficked area. There’s accidents all the time,” said Laureen Swing, a 15-year resident of Rancho Palos Verdes. “I think it’s almost a dangerous stretch of road.”
Swing was walking her dog a block from the crash site Tuesday afternoon. She said she stays to the right when she drives on Hawthorne Boulevard “because I’m just afraid of people wanting to go fast.”
“They don’t use turn signals sometimes when they switch lanes. I’ve almost found myself getting into an accident, trying to avoid another car cutting me off on that road. It’s pretty dangerous.”
She said a van crossed the median on the same road a few years ago and nearly hit her.
Other residents said that due to the grade on Hawthorne, it’s easy for drivers to lose track of their speed.
“You don’t know how fast you can descend. I’ve been ticketed not even accelerating, just using the momentum of the hill, and I was speeding,” said a 54-year resident of Rancho Palos Verdes who asked not to be named. “If you’re not familiar with this area, it’s just really easy to go fast."
The resident usually avoids the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Blackhorse Road, "because people will run the light, and I could get nailed making my left turn up here.”
Times staff writers Sam Farmer and Christina Schoellkopf contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.