Few would have predicted that Tiger Woods would be playing in the PGA Championship this week. He had three failed back surgeries, starting in 2014. He had taken opioids. His astonishing career seemed over.

Then he had one more operation, a spinal fusion, the most complex of all, in 2017. And last month he won the Masters, playing the way he used to.

An outcome like his from fusion surgery is so rare it is "like winning the lottery," Dr. Sohail K. Mirza, a spine surgeon at Dartmouth, said.

The idea behind spinal fusion is to remove a disk —

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