"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Winston Churchill uttered those words in 1942, after Allied forces had beaten the Axis at El Alamein. Though the matter is much less momentous, these same words may very well apply to the Tiger Woods scandal.
By announcing, in the wake of admitted infidelities, that he is taking an indefinite leave from the PGA Tour, Woods has not provided a resolution. But he may have allowed all of us to catch our breath while we wait for the next moves of Tiger and, especially, his wife, Elin.
As one member of the SI Golf Plus and GOLF.com team that has been tracking the revelations, I think I bring a unique perspective. Before I became a sports editor, I spent almost two decades in show-business and celebrity journalism, primarily at TV Guide and SI's sister publication, PEOPLE. One of my assignments as an editor at PEOPLE was the "Royals" beat, which I was on in the early '90s when the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana unraveled.
Big story, you'd say? Absolutely. But in my experience, not even close to L'Affaire Tiger. When it comes to buzz, this has generated the most of any story I have been involved in, hands down.
(A disclaimer: I don't compare the Tiger tale to true world-shakers like Watergate or 9/11. They are in a different class altogether.)
I have never seen a story cut across demographic lines the way this one has. Men, women, young, old, golfers, non-golfers. Everyone's talking about it. Everybody's e-mailing me about it. In restaurants, trains, in lines waiting for coffee, you hear Tiger talk. Obviously, it's right in the wheelhouse of late-night talk-show hosts. But did I expect to turn on MSNBC's "Hardball," a political show, and find Chris Mathews and his guests hashing out Elin's options?
There are many reasons that everything is all Tiger, all the time. One is that this story has so many of the elements that make for sensationalism: the world's most famous athlete, sex, secrets, wealth, youth, plus the beautiful and mysterious wife topped off by amazingly specific and titillating detail. But the biggest reason is technology: the Internet. That's what has changed in the 15 years between Charles-and-Di and Tiger, and even since O.J. (That one also crossed over between sports and non-sports news outlets, few of whom worry anymore about invading privacy.)
Start with the day after Thanksgiving, when the news broke of Tiger's hydrant-bashing the night before. It was as if an entire bored nation, recovering from a turkey-and-wine-induced tryptyophan torpor, was surfing the Web looking for something to do. Thereafter folks seemed to stay online for two weeks. They e-mailed. They relayed the latest jokes, the cruel Tiger greeting cards, the photoshopped images. They Googled Tiger's paramours. The story mushroomed like a cloud from a hydrogen bomb.
In two weeks, the Tiger story has become the new paradigm for celebrity coverage. Any public figure hoping to preserve secrets, take notice. You are one fender-bender away not only from having them spilled but also from becoming the nation's punchline.
And in this respect, we are not at the end, or at the beginning of the end, or even at the end of the beginning.