Tiger Woods appeared to not be paying attention in the moments before his devastating crash — and may have fallen asleep at the wheel of the luxury SUV he was driving, according to a report citing forensic car accident experts.
The 45-year-old links legend was driving a 2021 Genesis GV80 alone when he veered across the median on Hawthorne Boulevard in Rancho Palos Verdes, went off the road and struck a tree — causing the car to roll over.
Woods broke several bones in his lower right leg, which indicates he was applying the brake at the time of impact, experts told USA Today, adding that the evidence indicates he braked late into the collision sequence.
"To me, this is like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel, because the road curves and his vehicle goes straight," Jonathan Cherney, a consultant who serves as an expert witness in court cases, told the news outlet.
The former police detective examined the crash site in person.
"It's a drift off the road, almost like he was either unconscious, suffering from a medical episode or fell asleep and didn't wake up until he was off the road and that's where the brake application came in," Cherney told USA Today.
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said there were no skid marks to indicate braking — but the vehicle had anti-lock brakes, so even if Woods slammed on the brakes, "you wouldn't necessarily see tire marks," Felix Lee, an accident reconstruction expert, told the outlet.
Lee said a key clue is how the SUV did not change direction entering the curve.
"My feeling is that speed wasn't that much of an issue. It was just some kind of inattention that caused the kerb strike," said Lee, who is part of the Expert Institute, a network that provides expert witnesses in court cases.
Cherney also said he didn't see evidence of "any steering input" that would show the golfer tried to avoid the accident.
Rami Hashish, principal at the National Biomechanics Institute, which investigates accidents, told USA Today that this suggests a "very delayed response."
"It was suggesting he wasn't paying attention at all," said the expert, adding that he suspects the damage would have been much greater if Woods had been travelling at an excessive speed.
The speed limit on that stretch is 45mph (72km/h).
"You can walk away with a broken leg from 45 to 50 mph," Hashish said. "If you're hitting 60, 65 (105km/h) and you're hitting a stationary object, your likelihood of death increases exponentially."
If he was speeding at 80 mph (129km/h), "he wouldn't be having an open fracture in this leg — he'd be dead," he said.
The sheriff has said investigators didn't know the vehicle's speed yet but said it could have been a factor, as well as inattentiveness.
"This stretch of road is challenging, and if you're not paying attention, you can see what happens," Villanueva said Wednesday, adding that the crash was "purely an accident" in a preliminary assessment.
There was no evidence of impairment or medication involved, he added.
However, the experts were surprised that Villanueva had determined it to be an accident without yet having examined the SUV's "black box" computer, which could reveal steering, braking or acceleration actions before impact.
"There's no real accident unless it's a true medical emergency," Cherney said. "There's always some level of negligence, whether it's simple negligence like looking down at your phone or changing the radio station that starts the whole collision sequence.
"So when the sheriff is saying this is just an accident, I don't know how in the world you can state that so early in the game without completing an in-depth, thorough investigation and reconstruction analysis," he added.
In 2017, police found Woods asleep at the wheel in Florida. A toxicology report said he had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien — which is used to treat sleep problems — and THC in his system at the time.
Cherney also questioned whether the SUV actually rolled over "several times," as Villanueva has indicated.
"I consider a rollover one full revolution, not just falling onto the side," Cherney said. "I don't think that vehicle experienced as many revolutions or complete rolls as they are portraying."
In his first comments after the crash, Woods said Sunday: "It is hard to explain how touching today was when I turned on the TV and saw all the red shirts," referring to his peers wearing his signature Sunday outfit of red shirt and black pants during the final round of the WCG-Workday Championship.
"To every golfer and every fan, you are truly helping me get through this tough time."