Tiger Woods’s post-accident strategy, legal and otherwise, is now becoming clear: say as little as possible. And do whatever he can to make sure his wife, Elin Nordegren Woods, does the same. On his website on Sunday, Woods released a brief statement, acknowledging the obvious, that the situation is “embarrassing” and “stressful,” but asking for “some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”
He did not address this week’s National Enquirer story, which claims that Woods has had an affair with a New York club promoter named Rachel Uchitel. Uchitel has denied the affair. The Enquirer has said that it stands by its story.
Woods also said in the statement that his wife “acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble” at the time of the accident, on Friday at about 2:30 a.m. “She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false.”
The statement continued: “This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.”
On Sunday afternoon, Florida Highway Patrol officials released a tape of the emergency 911 call made by an Isleworth neighbor that describes Woods, who is not named in the conversation, on the ground, bleeding and unconscious after his 2009 black Cadillac Escalade struck a fire hydrant and the neighbor’s tree. The caller made no reference to Elin, even though Windermere, Fla., police chief Dan Saylor has said she smashed the back window of the vehicle with a golf club because the doors were locked and she could not get her husband out.
In the best of times, Woods is not one to be forthcoming with reporters or the public, and this, for him, is the worst of times. He has led an exemplary public life and this is the first time his image has taken any sort of serious hit. Since his 1996 professional debut, with the exception of one GQ interview that he regretted, Woods has answered questions dutifully but often with the fewest words possible. In the wake of the accident, his little-as-possible strategy is even more obvious.
On three occasions — on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — Florida Highway Patrol officers have tried to interview Woods only to be rebuffed. The first time by Woods’s wife. The second time by Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg. The third time by Woods’s lawyer, Mark Nejame, who informed FHP officers that Woods would not meet with them on Sunday afternoon. An FHP spokesman said that Woods provided his license and other basic information, and that the “crash investigation is ongoing and charges are pending.”
According to interviews with lawyers, Woods has no legal obligation to submit to FHP interviews because of Fifth Amendment rights. According to the lawyers contacted by Golf.com, the only criminal charges that could come out of a minor traffic accident such as this would be driving under the influence, reckless driving or destruction of public property.
Police officials have said that alcohol was not a factor in the accident, and Woods’s alcohol level was not even tested because, as Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes told the Orlando Sentinel, troopers need probable cause that someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to demand such tests, and they had no reason to suspect Woods.
One of the lawyers interviewed by Golf.com, Bill Wallshein of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said state officials could subpoena a blood sample, if one was saved, from the hospital where Woods was treated on Friday morning, and that the sample could be tested for alcohol or drugs.
“The public is expecting the state to do a thorough job here,” Wallshein said. “Woods is in a Catch-22.” Had he answered investigators questions, Woods would have given information that he regards as private to, in essence, the public. He also would have opened himself to possible perjury charges had he made untruthful statements. But by not answering investigators questions, he risks increasing their desire to dig deeper. The bottom line, though, is that there are no serious injuries and only minor physical damage. The legal upshot will likely be nothing more than a traffic ticket.
The 911 call was oddly short, both in duration and details. The caller never identified Woods; the nature and severity of the injuries were vague; and the call seemed to suddenly end when the male caller’s portable house phone went out of range. A woman’s voice, not Nordegren’s, can be heard at one point in the background, and the caller can be heard asking for someone to get water. There is no known follow-up call.
One lawyer said the whole issue is likely to fade away over time as long as Woods and Nordegren stay on the same page, meaning they say little and that their stories are consistent. That pre-supposes that there aren’t other witnesses to the accident, or insiders who will talk publicly about the nature of the marriage.
It is unclear whether Woods will take part in his California tournament this week, the Chevron World Challenge, a fundraiser for the Tiger Woods Foundation. He did not play last year when he was recovering from knee surgery. What is clear is that Woods is taking a long-term view as he assesses the situation. It seems his goal is to not make matters worse. He’s having one of the worst weeks of his life, but time, it seems, is on his side.