Tiger Hunted

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Tiger Woods’ silence makes real story all the more intriguing

By Rick Morrissey, Chicago Tribune

A story involving a fire hydrant and a tree normally is the province of Dog World magazine.

But when the story centers on Tiger Woods, it’s a whole different animal.

Those of us who believe the tale needs to be fleshed out have been tsk-tsked to death in recent days. When the Florida Highway Patrol said Tuesday it would cite Woods for careless driving, costing him all of $164, there was a strong suggestion that everybody should move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

As Woods said in an earlier statement, “This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way.”

It’s about as private as an outdoor papal mass.

I have no constitutional right to know what happened in the early hours Friday, when Woods ended up running his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant and tree, nor do I have the right to know why his wife, Elin, reportedly smashed the SUV’s back windows with a golf club.

And I have no legal privilege to know how one of the most famous athletes on the planet ended up with cuts on his face.

But I really, really want to know. So sue me for my curiosity.

The guiding principle in these situations should be this: If it’s hard for people to turn on a TV or open a magazine without your trying to sell them something from Nike, Gillette, AT & T and American Express, you have waived most of your rights to privacy.

Or, more succinctly, if you’re going to be in my living room, I get to ask about what went on in your driveway.

It’s unrealistic to be involved in what looks like a very fishy incident and expect everyone and everything to go away. But that’s exactly what Woods wants, and judging by some of the discussions I’ve heard on the radio, a lot of other people agree that this isn’t a public matter.

They say all they care about is what he shoots on Sundays. But it’s hard to argue with the fact all the excellence Woods stands for has as much to do with his lucrative image as it does his golf game.

And it’s fair to ask questions when that image of class and taste is getting kneecapped by a 2-iron.

And so we ask questions.

Why did Woods refuse to meet with police about the incident?

Police say alcohol wasn’t involved, but how do we know this? Woods did not take a Breathalyzer test or a blood test.

Why was he leaving his home at 2:25 a.m. anyway?

I don’t want to make this out to be Watergate, but I do want to point out these are natural questions people are asking about L’Affaire Tiger. In this day and age of Web sites with low, if any, journalistic standards, and with agents and marketing people trying to shape their clients’ stories beyond recognition, it takes Herculean strength to scrape away the barnacle-like substance covering the truth.

What we do know is the latest issue of Us Weekly magazine, that paragon of integrity, tells the story of a woman claiming to have had a 31-month affair with Woods. She says she has the photos and racy text messages to prove it. (As an aside, how stupid do you have to be to text your lover and not expect it come back to haunt you?)

The women’s name is Jaimee Grubbs, according to TMZ, that standard-bearer of pure ethical behavior. (Aside No. 2: If you name your child Jaimee or Brandee or Carlee, studies have shown there’s a decent chance she’s going to be what Grubbs is, a cocktail waitress who has appeared on a reality show.)

The TMZ report comes on the (high) heels of a National Enquirer story alleging Woods had an affair with a New York nightclub hostess. The woman denies it.

OK, we have cannonballed into a swimming pool filled with ooze. I get that. But did we jump in or did Woods push us in by his silence? I vote for the latter.

When it comes to his private life, Woods likes distance. No one should be surprised that he has put a lid on the incident and nailed it shut. He has withdrawn from his own tournament, the Chevron World Challenge, which starts Thursday.

Marketing experts have stepped forward to urge Woods to “get ahead” of the story, the way Alex Rodriguez did with his past use of performance-enhancing drugs. Forget it.

Surely Woods has paid attention to our culture’s forgiving attitude toward athletes in trouble. He has a pretty good idea he will be as popular as ever, both on the golf course and in the endorsement world.

So the real story? Maybe we have it, maybe we don’t. But I’ll keep wondering, unapologetically.

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.