By: TIM DAHLBERG, The Associated Press
It has always been easy for Tiger Woods on the golf course. Until now, it has been the same way in his personal life.
No more. Not with 911 tapes still to be heard and accident reports still to be viewed.
The early Friday morning accident in front of his house wouldn’t have drawn the attention of anyone other than the local cops if he were anyone else. There was no alcohol involved, damage was minimal, and Woods was treated at a local hospital and back home before word began to leak out.
But he’s Tiger Woods, and he’s larger than life. He pummels opponents on the golf course, and he sells Gatorade and Nike products to millions who are in awe of what he can do.
Woods created that aura himself, carefully managing what people saw on the course and even more carefully managing what they were allowed to see off it.
He was the ultimate control freak, whether with a 7-iron in his hand or a microphone. But, as Woods is so painfully learning now, even he can’t control everything.
At some point he’ll have to talk with the troopers. More importantly, at some point he’ll have to talk to his fans.
If not, the Internet rumor mill will keep churning. If not, the rampant speculation will be passed off as fact.
“People are just piling on with speculation and controversy,” said David Schwab, a vice president of Octagon, a major sports marketing firm. “You need something to settle the ship. If he’s not able to do it, find someone to do it for him.”
That ship seemed steady as a rock until this week when reports surfaced that the National Enquirer was planning a piece on what it said was an alleged affair between Woods and another woman. The woman denied in an interview with the Associated Press that there was anything going on between her and Woods, but the report found its way to blogs and on Twitter anyway.
Then came the bizarre scene of Woods bloodied and semi-concious in his SUV with his wife using a golf club to smash out a window to help save him. In the rush-to-judgment world that exists Online, suddenly two and two became five and the story steamrolled even further out of control.
Assuming Woods has crisis management advisers, he had better get them on the phone. Assuming they answer, he had better listen to their advice.
Say something, and say it soon.
“He’s obviously gotten advice so far that he shouldn’t talk to anyone,” said John Rowady, president of rEvolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing agency. “That was one of the issues, albeit a different one, with Michael Phelps. I was always a believer that you should come out and say what happened and apologize if need be and take it from there.”
So far, though, nothing but silence. No comment from Woods, none from his agent, and none from his spokesman.
On Saturday, they weren’t even talking to the troopers who were heading over for an interview.
What they ? and we ? eventually find out may be surprising. Or it may turn out to be nothing.
Either way, Woods needs to talk.
The one thing we do know is that, for all his money and passion for privacy, it turns out Woods is not much different than anyone else. His accident parted the curtains on his windows, and gave us a tantalizing peek inside the barricades that a guy with a yacht named “Privacy” so jealously guarded.
It’s all part of the public record now, and it’s nothing Woods can control.
What he does need to know is this: People will forgive and, mostly, they’ll forget, as witnessed with the infamous Phelps bong photo.
Woods doesn’t have any expertise in all this. Yes, he’s the most famous athlete in the world, greeted a few weeks ago like a rock star in Australia. But outside a few well chosen pictures of his photogenic wife and his equally photogenic children, no one knew much.
It was the Michael Jordan model and it worked well as Woods managed to stay out of any controversy to become possibly the first athlete to earn a billion dollars. Even his well known affinity for all things Vegas never tarnished the image of Woods as the ultimate family man with the ultimate family.
“Here’s a guy that has a squeaky clean record. He leads the king’s life and everybody admires him,” Rowady said. “It’s a personal matter, but his ability to come out and talk about it will be interesting. I’m sure he has a lot of pressure on him and is trying to avoid the rumors.”
Woods will have a chance on Tuesday when he is supposed to be at a press conference for his tournament in Los Angeles. But in a world where information and disinformation spread faster than swine flu, even that may be too late.
Hard to blame Woods for wanting to take a pass. Even if it was the best scenario ? that maybe Woods was just heading out for a drive ? he might be mocked for his lack of skill in negotiating his driveway.
The longer Woods keeps quiet, though, the worse it will get.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press