WINDERMERE, Fla. – Tiger Woods, for all his global celebrity, has made his personal life virtually inscrutable. But his intense desire for privacy is being challenged like never before.
More than 34 news vehicles, including 10 trucks, several with satellite links, parked in front of the gated community of Isleworth – Woods’ home and, as of the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 27, the site of his now infamous car accident.
Though the 14-time major winner suffered only minor injuries, the unusual circumstances of his crash have left a slew of unanswered questions, which led the reporters, photographers and cameramen to be deposited outside his Windermere mansion near Orlando.
A CNN crew member, dispatched from Miami, arrived at the scene at 9 a.m. today. His mission mirrored everyone else’s.
“I’m shooting live shots and whatever else might happen,” said the camerman, who declined to disclose his identity, citing a company policy. “We also want video of Florida Highway Patrol arriving. And I don’t think Woods will be coming out, but if he does. . .”
Indeed, when a single FHP car pulled into Isleworth’s entrance at 2:41 p.m., that mere incident triggered a shutter frenzy with photographers springing into action. But more relevant information, which FHP officers had come to obtain in an interview with Woods, remained unavailable.
FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said troopers were headed to Woods’ mansion when agent Mark Steinberg called dispatch and was put through to the troopers to tell them Woods and his wife were unavailable for the second consecutive day.
Montes said Woods is not required to give a statement because it is being investigated as a traffic accident, but also said “it is unusual that we haven’t gotten a statement.”
“This just delays us to getting closer to the completion of the investigation,” she said.
Central to the inquisition, aside from the fact that Woods is the world’s most recognizable athlete: Why did he leave his house at 2:25 a.m., and what caused him to hit a fire hydrant, then a tree, leaving him with cuts and briefly unconscious?
Windermere police chief Daniel Saylor said his two officers found the 33-year-old Woods lying in the street with his wife, Elin, hovering over him.
“She was frantic, upset,” Saylor said in a briefing Nov. 27. “It was her husband laying on the ground.”
Saylor said Woods’ wife told officers she was in the house when she heard the accident and “broke the back window with a golf club.” He said the front-door windows were not broken and that “the door was probably locked.”
“She supposedly got him out and laid him on the ground,” he said. “He was in and out of consciousness when my guys got there.”
Saylor said Woods had lacerations to his upper and lower lips, and blood in his mouth; officers treated Woods for about 10 minutes until an ambulance arrived. Woods was conscious enough to speak, though the police chief said Woods didn’t say anything coherent.
In a telephone interview, Woods’ father-in-law, radio journalist Thomas Nordegren, told The Associated Press in Stockholm that he would not discuss the accident.
“I haven’t spoken to her in the last few. . .” Nordegren said about his daughter, Elin, before cutting himself off. “I don’t want to go into that.”
Woods’ mother-in-law Barbro Holmberg also refused to address the matter.
“She doesn’t want to comment on private issues like these,” Holmberg’s spokeswoman Eva Malmborg said.
Damage to the front of Woods’ SUV was described by Saylor as “not real extensive, but not real light.”
Steinberg and spokesman Glenn Greenspan said there would be no comment beyond the short statement of the accident posted Nov. 27 on Woods’ Web site that said: “Tiger Woods was in a minor car accident outside his home last night. He was admitted, treated and released today in good condition. We appreciate very much everyone’s thoughts and well wishes.”
The response from the Woods’ camp, however, shed no light as to the reason for Woods’ leaving his house in the middle of the night.
Asked at a news conference if Woods and his wife could have been arguing, Saylor said he had no knowledge of a dispute. The couple, married five years, have two children.
The accident came two days after the National Enquirer published a story alleging that Woods had been seeing a New York night club hostess, and that they recently were together in Melbourne, where Woods competed in the Australian Masters.
The woman, Rachel Uchitel, denied having an affair with Woods when contacted by the AP.
“I resent my reputation is getting completely blasted in the media,” she said during a telephone interview Nov. 27. “Everyone is assuming I came out and said this. This is not a story I have anything to do with.”
Uchitel said she was in Melbourne two weeks ago with clients and never saw Woods the entire time she was there.
Earlier today in an interview with the AP, National Enquirer executive editor Barry Levine defended his publication: “The story stands for itself.”
The Florida Highway Patrol said tapes of the 911 call won’t be released until they can be reviewed, perhaps Sunday at the earliest.
“Right now we believe this is a traffic crash,” Montes said. “We don’t believe it is a domestic issue.
Woods, coming off a two-week trip to China and Australia earlier this month, is host of the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which starts Thursday. He is scheduled to have his press conference Tuesday afternoon at Sherwood Country Club. Steinberg said he did not know if Woods planned to play next week.
Meanwhile, Woods’ is recuperating in his $2.4 million home, which is part of an exclusive subdivision near Orlando, a community set on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a chain of small lakes. The neighborhood, which is fortified with high brick walls and has its own security force, is home to CEOs and other sports stars such as the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal.
Outside those walls, media members await. And it appears their scrutiny won’t subside for quite some time.
Asked when he would be leaving his post, the CNN cameraman said: “I have no idea.”
– Associated Press contributed.