Hogan broke his collarbone, pelvis, left ankle and a rib when a Greyhound bus hit the car he was driving head-on while navigating a foggy Texas highway; had he not reached over to shield his wife upon impact, he likely would have been impaled by his Cadillac’s steering column and died.
Even the cars themselves, with their crumpled front portions, bear a resemblance to each other.
Hogan was 36 years old at the time and had won three majors, two of them the year before, and had been the PGA Tour’s leading money winner five times already that decade, even though his career had been interrupted for more than two years while serving in World War II. Now it was being interrupted again, at its peak.
“I think that in 1949, Ben believed he was going to sweep the plate,” fellow Texan and Hogan contemporary Dan Jenkins told Golf Digest in 2009. The legendary sportswriter said he believes Hogan missed out on 20 majors because of the war and then his injuries.
“I was better in 1948 and ’49 than I’ve ever been,” Hogan, who won 32 of the 85 official events he played between his World War II discharge and the crash, said in 1983.
Even though he suffered injuries that would make prolonged walking difficult and affect his game for the rest of his life, Hogan would win six more majors, most famously the 1950 U.S. Open, just 16 months after the accident. In 1953, he won five of the six tournaments he entered, including the Masters, British Open and U.S. Open; no other player would win three Grand Slam events in a season until Woods in 2000. Hogan didn’t win the PGA Championship simply because he didn’t play in it: It overlapped with the British Open at the time, he disliked its match-play format and the tournament required 36 holes of golf on some days (because of his injuries, 18 was Hogan’s limit).
Hogan’s recovery and comeback quickly became such a part of U.S. sports lore that Twentieth Century Fox churned out a movie about it, “Follow the Sun,” less than two years after the crash.
Woods’s final golf chapters have yet to be written, obviously, but the comparisons with Hogan might end with the car crash. At 45 and already beset with major back problems — at the time of the crash, he was taking a break from competitive golf because of his most recent medical procedure — Woods’s playing career had not been anywhere near its peak.
After his stirring Masters win in 2019 gave him 15 career majors, Woods’s performance tailed off: Of the six grand slams that followed, Woods missed the cut in three and finished no better than a tie for 21st in the others. His last win was in Japan in October 2019. After a tie for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open three months later, Woods’s best finish in the eight tournaments that followed was a tie for 37th.
But still, considering the advances in sports medicine and the determination Woods has shown throughout his career — the man won a U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff while playing with a double stress fracture in his leg — anything would seem to be possible, including a comeback that would perhaps top even Hogan’s.
“Sending my prayers to [Woods] and his family tonight — here’s to a speedy recovery for the GOAT of golf,” former president Barack Obama tweeted Tuesday night. “If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to never count Tiger out.”