The PR specialists who are making themselves available for expert opinion (and their own publicity) have mostly concluded that Woods is making a big mistake by hiding behind his silence over the car crash outside his home last week.
Not many would dispute that.
Keeping quiet only fueled speculation and innuendo that is not likely to end with the Florida Highway Patrol announcement Tuesday that Woods will be cited for reckless driving and fined $164, and its investigation is over.
Even so, no one should be surprised by how Woods and his management team are proceeding.
He has been handling things his own way since he turned pro.
Woods does not get into many media confrontations. When he does, the response is short and often distributed on paper.
After the famous GQ article in 1997, in which Woods was quoted as telling jokes with racial overtones in the back seat of a car, he issued a statement through IMG in which he confessed to the jokes. “It’s no secret that I’m 21 years old and that I’m naive about the motives of certain ambitious writers,” it said.
He was playing at Bay Hill when the article came out. The day after his statement, upon finishing his round, Woods rushed by a group of reporters and ducked inside a tent to sign autographs.
That was the first – and last – time Woods could be found in an autograph tent.
At his next news conference, a week later at The Players Championship, Woods repeated the line about being naive. When someone started to ask about the magazine article, Woods cut him off.
“I have already answered enough on that GQ article,” he said.
His first big gaffe happened right after he turned pro in 1996, when he was playing on sponsor exemptions to get his PGA Tour card. Once he had the money he needed in four tournaments, Woods abruptly withdrew from the Buick Challenge, citing exhaustion. The problem was he also bailed on an invitation-only dinner in his honor to receive the Fred Haskins Award for being the NCAA Player of the Year.
Woods offered only a statement – no mention of the dinner – and was roasted by players and tournament officials.
He finally responded with a guest column for a golf magazine in which he recognized his mistake.
“Even though I know I did the right thing in getting away, I should have stayed long enough to attend the dinner and then gone home,” he wrote. “But hindsight is 20-20.”
Those incidents were quickly forgotten after Woods began an astonishing run into the record books with his watershed victory in the 1997 Masters. But then came another incident, perhaps the most publicized – until now.
A week after his Masters victory, Fuzzy Zoeller was quoted on CNN as suggesting Woods not have fried chicken on the Champions Dinner menu the next year. “Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve,” Zoeller said.
Zoeller apologized immediately. It took three days for Woods to accept the apology – through a statement. By then, Zoeller had lost his endorsement with KMart, and the popular two-time major champion was never the same. During the longest three days of Zoeller’s life, Woods was said to be unavailable while meeting with Nike executives in Oregon.
More issues followed. More guarded responses.
The all-male membership at Augusta National? Woods managed to take both sides of the delicate issue, saying the club should have a female member while acknowledging the rights of a private club to set its own rules. It got so intense that The New York Times wrote an editorial urging Woods to boycott the Masters.
Through it all, he never got off script.
In a 2000 dispute with the PGA Tour over ownership of his marketing rights, Woods used a golf magazine to get across his complaints. When a reporter caught up with Woods in Spain and asked if he would ever leave the Tour, Woods delivered another calculated answer without saying a word. He smiled and he shrugged. And then he walked away.
He met with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem two months later, and they have been mostly allies ever since.
Even without time to prepare an answer (or statement), Woods has dismissed criticism of other issues – from throwing clubs to cursing to not helping tournaments by announcing earlier his intentions to play – with a short answer.
A year ago, his caddie was quoted by a New Zealand newspaper making disparaging remarks about Phil Mickelson. The night before his news conference at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods put out a statement saying he was disappointed in caddie Steve Williams, and that he had dealt with the matter and it was closed.
He took two questions the next day, no more. The issue never really came up again.
Woods so far has issued one statement on his Web site about the car crash – two days after the patrol first reported the accident. He said it was his fault, that he’s not perfect. He praised his wife for acting “courageously.” And he said it would remain a private matter.
Woods likely will go another two months before facing the media. Even if the story has lost its steam, questions are sure to come up.
If history is any indication, Woods still won’t answer them.