Thirteen years after Tiger Woods's first PGA Tour victory, we're getting a peek behind the curtain of secrecy Woods and his handlers so meticulously weaved over the years, and the view is very different from the family man, good-guy image he parlayed into a billion in the bank and global fame. At the moment, it is not a pretty sight, with a new revelation seemingly every day and his longtime sponsors rethinking their investment in an athlete who had seemed beyond reproach.
We're also in the midst of a media feeding frenzy not seen since the height of O.J. Simpson mania. Woods further churned the waters with the announcement on his Web site that he was taking an indefinite hiatus from the game.
As a sportswriter for 40 years who covered professional golf for the Washington Post for most of the last two decades, I've seen and occasionally written about badly behaving athletes in sports across the board, including the PGA Tour, so very little surprises me anymore. But I can't say that about this sadly sordid story.
I'm stunned, and maybe that's why I've also been feeling somewhat uneasy ever since Woods's run-in with a fire hydrant Nov. 27 became public. Plainly put, I'm also a little embarrassed that I did not have a clue about Woods's bizarre double life in what has become one of the most shocking free falls from grace in the history of sports.
Everywhere I go these days, people who know what I do for a living keep asking the same question: Did you have any idea this was going on?
I smile and sheepishly shake my head: No, I did not, never even a whiff.
And yet, even if I had known about his off-the-course "transgressions," I'm also not certain what sort of information would have been suitable for publication outside of the trashy tabloids and gossip Web sites. Woods surely violated his marriage vows and projected a public image that was inconsistent with the private life he led, but he was hardly the first athlete to betray a spouse or disappoint a fan base.
Out of simple curiosity, I e-mailed some of my fellow golf writers this month, wondering if any of them knew anything about Woods's extracurricular activities. A half-dozen colleagues who have covered the PGA Tour on a regular basis for most of the Woods era said they, too, had been similarly clueless about Woods' self-described "infidelities."
"I never saw or heard a thing," one respondent said. "I had the occasion to be with Tiger away from the course, away from golf in very private settings, and never saw anything suggestive, never saw him looking at an attractive woman in a suggestive way. I guess I always thought he was smarter, so maybe I wasn't looking for anything suspicious."
Another veteran golf writer said, "the million-dollar question I've been asked is, 'Did I know anything about this or ever see it coming?' At first I was a bit embarrassed to say no, thinking I had not been much of a reporter. But in talking to players, I'm finding out I wasn't alone. None of them had a sense of it, either. 'Ninety-eight percent of us are shocked' is what one player just told me."
And one more e-mail response to my query: "Rarely, if ever, did you see him off the golf course when he was playing, let alone when he was off [the tour]. Remember, these dalliances took place during his private time, such as Vegas or L.A. I don't think any of us thought about his private life until this came out, and we realized he did actually have one."
For Woods, it's mostly been a career of news conference exposure for the print media, brief post-round sound bite comments for TV and radio, and the very occasional extended broadcast interview, almost always with friendly inquisitors. For most news about Tiger, we all knew it was always wise to check out his Web site on a daily basis.
Save for three carefully crafted statements on http://www.TigerWoods.com, Woods has predictably gone incommunicado lately. In one, he pleaded for his right to privacy.