Awoken by the sound of a labouring car engine, Tiger Woods
’s neighbours looked out of the window and saw a large people-carrier at the bottom of their drive.
It had crashed into a tree and the golfer was lying on his back on the ground, shoeless, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth. His beautiful Swedish wife was hovering over him, clutching a golf club.
So began the precipitous fall of the man hailed not only as the greatest golfer of his generation but even as the greatest athlete of the modern era.
Groggy from an anti-insomnia sedative, Woods had fled his mansion home outside Orlando, Florida, one night in November 2009 after his wife Elin — the mother of his two young children — had looked through his mobile phone messages and found out he’d been lying when he denied media claims of an affair with Rachel Uchitel, a New York nightclub hostess.
A furious Elin had given chase, reportedly smashing his car with the golf club as he lost control of the vehicle.
But the Uchitel tryst, it rapidly emerged, wasn’t the half of it. At least 14 other women, including porn stars and strippers, said they’d had affairs with him, too.
His marriage collapsed, along with the image of a squeaky-clean family man that had helped him become the first sportsman to earn $1 billion in his career.
Plagued by injuries, the former child prodigy, who was 21 when he became world number one in 1997, plunged down the rankings.
Although Woods, now 42, hasn’t won a major golf competition since then, his performances have improved this year and he is optimistic about his chances when he returns to the Masters tournament in Augusta next week.
Huge crowds are turning out to watch him play, fuelling claims that the golf world has forgiven its fallen prince.
Could we be about to witness a great sporting comeback?
Certainly not if a searing new biography has any influence.
Based on more than 250 new interviews, the book — simply entitled Tiger Woods — has been hailed as the most comprehensive glimpse yet into the golfer’s private world.
Written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, it leaves no doubt that the humbling of Tiger was royally deserved.
His dysfunctional, controlling parents deserve some of the blame, but Woods emerges as a sociopathic narcissist.
‘Even the most basic human civilities — a simple hello or thank you — routinely went missing from his vocabulary. A nod was too much to expect,’ say the authors.
Hardly surprising, then, that so many women were ready to stick the knife in when he was exposed as a philanderer.
In this respect, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
His domineering father, retired army lieutenant-colonel Earl Woods, not only instilled in Tiger a ruthless determination to win at golf, but also appeared to pass on his weakness for womanising.
The book reveals how, in his later years, Woods Sr turned Tiger’s childhood home into what one employee called ‘a house of horrors’.
The house in California had cupboards and drawers overflowing with sex toys, while pornography played continually on the TV. It was populated by a small army of young female retainers recruited to cater to Earl’s insatiable sexual demands.
The authors also discovered that, despite being revered as Tiger’s beloved golfing mentor, Earl Woods is now buried in an unmarked grave — the final revenge, perhaps, of Tiger’s put-upon mother.
Woods Jr’s lonely golfing life started before he was two, thanks to a golf-obsessed father who quickly spotted that his son’s talent could be their meal-ticket for life.
‘I felt sorry for the child because he wanted to interact with others,’ said Maureen Decker, who taught him in kindergarten near the family home in Cypress, California.
Tiger was the only child of an African-American father and a Thai mother, Kultida, who followed Earl back to the U.S. not knowing he already had a wife and family there (Earl soon divorced his first wife).
Heavy-drinking, foul-mouthed Earl — who gave up full-time work to devote himself to Tiger’s golf — apparently ‘degraded’ his wife with insults and tried to toughen up his son by hurling abuse as he tried to practise his golf.
Kultida wasn’t much better, telling him to ‘kill’ opponents and ‘take their heart’. She declared: ‘I am a loner and so is Tiger. We don’t waste time with people we don’t like.’
Painfully insecure away from golf, Woods developed a stutter. But by the time he was 12, the authors estimate he had devoted 10,000 hours to either playing or studying golf.
His coach warned him not to be distracted by girls, but thoughts of romance may in any case have been soured by the knowledge that his father was cheating on his mother.
Anyway, few girls were interested in Woods at high school, where golf wasn’t seen as a sport and Tiger was dismissed as a nerd.
One exception was a pretty, blue-eyed blonde named Dina Gravell, who, when they were 16, became his first girlfriend. She became the buttoned-up Woods’s confidante, but the secret relationship ended abruptly four years later when Woods sent her a note during a golf tournament.
His parents said she had been telling people she was his girlfriend, he said, and his family ‘never want to talk or hear from you again’. The note ended: ‘PS, please mail my necklace that I gave you back to me when you get home.’
When the wounded girlfriend approached Woods’s half-sister, Royce, she said she ‘wasn’t allowed’ to talk to her any more. ‘I think his parents felt I was going to interfere in his life,’ said Dina.
Success only accentuated Woods’s personal shortcomings, making him even more arrogant and surly. His idea of humour was crude, off-colour jokes about black men’s sexual prowess, preferably told to women.
He turned professional at the age of 20 in 1996 and signed five-year advertising and endorsement deals worth $60 million (£43 million), making him America’s highest-earning sportsman.
His grandstanding father was even allowed to suggest that his son was God’s ‘Chosen One’ as Tiger-mania began. But after his parents split up that year and Woods became more independent, he grew paranoid that everyone was trying to exploit him.
He once confided to a friend that he took up diving because it was only down on the ocean floor that he could feel at peace.
He ruthlessly treated everyone outside his family as dispensable.
Notoriously tight-fisted, Woods never dreamt of tipping and expected others to pay his way. Golf tour officials would often quietly leave $100 tips on his behalf for locker-room attendants ‘to keep his parsimonious ways out of the Press’.
His ‘inability to show gratitude, apologise or express appreciation was rooted in his warped upbringing,’ says the book. ‘His mother pampered him like a prince and his father rarely uttered the words “thank you” or “I’m sorry”.’
When President Clinton invited him to a celebration of the life of black baseball star Jackie Robinson, Woods took umbrage that other black athletes had already been invited. ‘Screw him,’ was his response, said insiders.
Although he never had black girlfriends, Woods knew being seen as a young black man conquering the snobby white world of golf was crucial to his public image.
He embellished it by frequently recounting how, aged five, he had been tied to a tree at kindergarten by older boys. They had hurled rocks at him, calling him ‘monkey’ and spray-painting ‘n****r’ on his body, he said.
However, the authors of Tiger Woods insist the story simply isn’t true, interviewing former teachers who insisted that the young children were always supervised and older pupils were never allowed into the playground with them.
From 1998 to 2000 Woods had another girlfriend — also blonde — whom he again kept out of the limelight.
Joanna Jagoda, a law student and former cheerleader, was, like Woods’s first girlfriend, discreet, loyal and respectable.
But as women flung themselves at Woods in increasing numbers and he became more confident at dealing with them, his taste in them was changing.
Woods started going regularly to Las Vegas. It became his ‘private playground… where he could indulge without fear of scrutiny — what locals called “being in the bubble”.’
He arrived by private plane and was whisked in a blacked-out limo to the Mansion, an ‘ultra-exclusive’ Italian-themed enclave of villas behind the MGM casino. He could stay for days with nobody outside knowing he was there, while wine, food and women could be delivered with full discretion.
A ‘numbers man’, he took gambling seriously and was soon known as a ‘whale’ — a big spender who would routinely bet $20,000 on a hand of blackjack, often playing several simultaneously.
His fans never got to hear about his personal failings.
Woods was too controlled to let the golf groupies break his concentration during games — even when a naked lap-dancer ran onto the 18th green in front of him at the British Open in 2000.
However, he did notice a stunning 21-year-old Swede, Elin Nordegren, who was nanny to another player’s family.
Yet, even while he was oozing charm as he wooed the woman who would become his wife, Woods was playing the field in Las Vegas like a randy bull.
He frequented Light, a famously debauched nightclub where celebrities could pick out attractive women and have them summoned to their VIP table.
One night, the book relates, Woods and another famous sportsman picked up two girls at Light and took them back to a hotel, where they all stripped and slipped into a hot tub.
One of the women recalled Woods later leading her into a cupboard, where he ‘had his way with her in the dark’, shocking her by ‘the rough nature of the encounter’.
Woods managed to keep his secret Las Vegas life hidden from Ms Nordegren, whom he married in Barbados in 2004.
Less than two years later he met Jamie Jungers, a part-time lingerie model, at Light and they started an 18-month affair.
Woods gave her his mobile number and told her to store it under a different name. He used an old schoolfriend as a go-between to fix their assignations.
On the night his father died of kidney failure in California in 2006, Woods was just a few miles away at his luxury flat, where he spent the night in the arms of Ms Jungers.
Although Tiger and his family flew out with his mother to the funeral in Kansas, to this day no headstone marks the grave.
After his wife left him, Earl hired a bevy of young women to ‘service his needs’: One witness described it as a ‘f****** rodeo’. Tiger always called ahead when he was due to arrive, so the women could clear up.
He hardly needed to be coy, as his own private life was just as unedifying. He trawled the nightclubs and casinos not only of Las Vegas, but also New York and Orlando for sexual conquests.
Most of those conquered were young and impressionable, but in 2009 he was far more impressed when he met Rachel Uchitel, a 34-year-old Manhattan socialite.
Their affair, largely conducted in a flat near the Woods family home, was exposed in the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer. It was claimed that Woods later confessed in a sex addiction clinic to cheating with 120 women.
For all his public contrition, Woods remains his cold, self-centred self, the biography claims — although it should be noted representatives for Woods say the book is ‘littered with egregious errors’ and they were given no chance to verify any of the material.
When Glenn Frey, lead singer of The Eagles and a friend, died in 2016, it seems Woods didn’t send condolences to his family. And when skier Lindsey Vonn, his ex-girlfriend, suffered a dreadful training injury the same year, he didn’t get in touch with her either.
Sporting superstars don’t, of course, have to be ‘nice’ people. Tiger Woods seems to be in a class of his own.