Tiger Woods car crash breaks down his wall of privacy

Tiger Woods car crash, photos of his damaged SUV, and rumors on the Internet are confronting the golfer with the sort of public-relations challenge that he has always been so adept at avoiding.

Shaun Best/Reuters/File
Tiger Woods departs closing ceremonies with his wife Elin Nordegren at the Presidents Cup golf tournament at Harding Park golf course in San Francisco, California, in this October 7 file photo.

The Tiger Woods car crash has upended one of the most carefully scripted lives in sports.

On the golf course, Mr. Woods is equipped to handle whatever the minds of course designers can devise. Of late, they have taken to designing courses specifically for him, attempting vainly by the demands of pitch and fade to discomfit a man who stalks the links like a predator atop the food chain.

But among his many gifts – the sonic clap of his driver, the indomitable steel of his clenched fist, the winsome smile of the postmatch winner – not one equips him the gaping maw of public infatuation.

He announced Monday on his website that he will not be attending the Chevron World Challenge this weekend – a tournament that benefits his Tiger Woods Foundation. He cited injuries sustained in the one-car accident that has set the Internet's froth-meter to latté. Nor will he attend any event for the rest of this year, he added.

If the decision is part of an attempt to allow the controversy to blow over, Woods might be disappointed by the result. He said on his website Sunday that the accident and the questions surrounding it – where he was going after midnight Friday? why did he crash into a fire hydrant and a tree? why won't he talk to police? – are "a private matter, and I want to keep it that way."

He is very probably right. Being the closest thing to Caesar Augustus of Augusta National does not give the media or fans the constitutional right to know the details of what happens on the other side of his front door.

Thomas Jefferson would probably not have given an exclusive interview to TMZ.com, either. John Adams might not have thought so highly of fellow patriots googling "Abigail Adams pictures."

Yet there seems little way to escape the single infallible rule of the modern American gossip mill: 'fess up or it will fester. Most recently, there was David Letterman coming clean about his infidelities. He took a hit, and now it is essentially a nonstory.

Until Woods offers some explanation for what happened Friday, questions will hound him.

For all his ability to rewrite the rules of golf, to make opponents' putters tremble at the silent rumble of this name up the leaderboard, he is now in a world where he is just another Tom, Dick, or Brad Pitt. He cannot cow the paparazzi with those two searing eyes beneath the brim of a baseball cap.

That such a public figure could have had such a private life is, now in hindsight, astonishing. Here is a man who has built upon the empire of Arnold Palmer, the legacy of Jack Nicklaus, and the marketing savvy of Michael Jordan – and married a Swedish model, to boot – and yet who he is remains largely mystery. Everything about his public persona seems to have been managed as though by a committee.

Now, that façade has been broken down by a brief and disastrous late-night drive in a Cadillac Escalade.

A month ago, a fan on Woods's website asked him why there were so few pictures of Woods and his wife in gossip magazines. "We're kind of boring," he responded.

If nothing else, Woods and his life away from the golf course are no longer boring.

See also:

Tiger Woods 911 call released, Woods refuses to talk to police


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