LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - News of his car accident in Windermere, Florida, turned the carefully managed life of Tiger Woods upside down on Friday, provoking far more questions than answers.
Speculation about the background to the incident has been rife, largely fueled by the long delay by the golfing great and his advisers to speak out either publicly or to the investigating authorities.
Woods, who has carefully guarded his privacy ever since he first burst into the media spotlight, eventually issued a statement on Sunday in which he took responsibility for crashing his SUV outside his $2.4 million home.
According to local police, the world’s number one golfer was injured after hitting a fire hydrant and a tree as he pulled his Cadillac Escalade out of his driveway.
The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) said the accident was not alcohol-related, that Woods briefly lost consciousness and that his Swedish wife, Elin Nordegren, used a golf club to smash the rear window of her husband’s SUV to get him out.
Woods was subsequently released from hospital in “good condition” after being treated but the accident remains under investigation and the FHP is yet to question the golfer after being denied an interview request for three days in a row.
Because he was involved in a minor traffic accident only, Woods is not required by Florida law to give a statement and he has chosen to remain silent.
“This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way,” the 33-year-old said on his website (www.tigerwoods.com).
“Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.”
Several reports have been made by tabloid newspapers and celebrity websites claiming 14-times major champion Woods and his wife had been arguing shortly before his car crash.
The National Enquirer has reported Woods had an extra-marital relationship with a “New York City party girl.” The woman named in that report has denied a relationship.
Ever since the mysterious car crash on Friday, the Tiger Woods rumor mill has continued to grind.
Where was Woods going at 2:25 a.m. in the morning? Why did it take more than 13 hours after the accident before the Woods management team finally released a short statement about his condition?
The greatest golfer of his era and one of the world’s most recognizable figures, Woods has become a master in guarding his privacy and showing very little of his human side.
He has frequently said that anonymity is one of the things he misses most from his days as a student and it is no coincidence that he named his luxury yacht Privacy.
In an October posting on Facebook, Woods said: “I’m asked why people don’t often see me and Elin in gossip magazines or tabloids. I think we’ve avoided a lot of media attention because we’re kind of boring.”
That all changed on Friday and Woods has since been plunged into unwelcome territory with dozens of media and several television trucks permanently camped outside the guarded gates of his exclusive Isleworth community.
Could Woods and his advisers have handled the car crash fallout more effectively? Some experts think so.
Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, believes Woods should have “come clean” immediately.
“The first rule is tell it all, and tell it fast,” Argenti said. “With the addition of social media to the mix, this has become even more important.
“The blogosphere and crackpot gossip-mongers now control this story. Why would Tiger Woods want that? He is a public figure and as such the speculation will not end until he discusses what really happened.”
Woods will stay away from the media spotlight for the next two months, having decided on Monday to miss this week’s Chevron World Challenge which he has hosted in Thousand Oaks, California, for the past nine years.
He had been scheduled to hold a news conference on Tuesday but said he was unable to travel from Florida to California because of injuries sustained in his car accident.
“Yes, he can ask and even beg for privacy but it’s a major news story and he can’t just hope it will go away by hiding in his hamlet in Florida,” Argenti added.
A role model for countless people around the world because of his supreme golf talent and Afro-American-Asian background, Woods has been placed on a virtual pedestal of perfection.
Helped by his handlers, he has been able to preserve that flawless, almost non-human image by building a near-impenetrable wall around his personal life. Until now.
Editing by John Mehaffey
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