ORLANDO, Fla. - How different things might have been if Tiger Woods simply had avoided the hedges and fire hydrant. Or at least less calamitous.
In the wee hours of Nov. 27, 2009, golf’s most famous icon made a hasty exit from his Isleworth driveway that took his SUV over a curb and grass median, glancing off a row of hedges and fire hydrant before crashing into a tree.
Woods was later treated for a busted lip and a sore neck.
But the real damage came in the ensuing days as the veneer of his pristine image was peeled off to reveal a jaw-dropping series of extramarital revelations.
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The fallout cost Woods his marriage, reputation and plenty of endorsements. And during time, a lost season.
“I don’t think anyone has ever experienced this,” said IMG agent Mark Steinberg, who helped manage the immediate aftermath. “There’s certainly not a road map how to deal with this. We consulted with some people who deal with crisis management, and that was the consensus we got.
There also was a lot still in play. You still had some of it true, some of it not true. Not everything had been discussed or revealed. So I’m not sure how he could come out before there was full resolution to everything.”
Golf, in turn, took its share of bruises as well.
“Probably the most cataclysmic business change that golf has ever had,” suggested sports business analyst Rick Horrow, contributing editor for Bloomberg Television and PBS’s Nightly Business Report.
In a sense, one might say golf itself clipped the fire hydrant after the Thanksgiving leftovers were put away. Perhaps even more.
“Last year at this stage, most of the players were going, ‘How did we miss this?’ Nobody saw it coming,” said PGA Tour veteran Padraig Harrington. “Like the public, we were enthralled by the whole, ‘How did he get away with it?’ ”
After a decade of hitching its star to Woods’ charismatic presence and a dominance that captivated fans while picking up 14 major championships, the PGA Tour and golf in general was left to address fading viewership and an economic crossroads.
“If we’re all brutally honest with ourselves, he’s not had the year you’d think he would have had,” said Lee Westwood. “I don’t want to say he’s not the golfer he was, but at the same time, golf gives you one and takes away another. Form is very fickle in golf, and it can affect anybody. To all the players, it made him look a little more human. A bit more like us.”
Meanwhile, the attention riveted to L’Affair Tiger marked a sea change in the way athletes’ personal lives are covered.
“The picture was a fairy-tale wife, two beautiful kids with the dog, smiling pictures in the magazine, laser focus, the eye of the tiger,” said Rich Lerner, Golf Channel’s longtime anchor and essayist.
“He was perfect, and that’s why the fall was surreal. This was a plunge off the top of Everest.”
Some quarters perhaps suffered minor damage, needing a little epoxy and paint. Some may never function quite the same.
“All I know is that the world’s a lot different than it used to be,” PGA Tour veteran Scott Verplank said.
For his part, Woods says he’s moved on.
“We’re going to have a great Thanksgiving,” he said. “We’ve turned the corner, turned the page, and it’s time to move forward.”