WINDERMERE, Fla. – Despite presenting his side of the car-crash story and asking that it remain “a private matter,” Tiger Woods may still not be in the clear.
Troopers arriving at his Isleworth home requesting an interview were turned down for a third straight day, but the Florida Highway Patrol said it will continue to investigate. Yet the tabloid-fueled rumors now swirling around one of the world’s richest and most-recognizable athletes could turn out to be more troublesome still.
About an hour before the troopers arrived Sunday afternoon, Woods released a statement on his Web site taking responsibility for – but providing few details about – the middle-of-the-night accident that left him dazed, bruised and bloodied.
“This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way,” Woods said. “Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible. …
“I appreciate all the concern and well wishes that we have received,” the statement concluded. “But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”
Yet several public-relations experts believed there was little chance of that request being honored.
“The goal of putting out a statement, or having a press conference, is to make sure questions are answered so you’re not continuing to have questions that are crisis-related,” said Mike Paul, whose firm, MGP & Associates, frequently works with athletes. “There are still over a dozen questions we have regarding his reputation because the statement is not enough.”
The world’s No. 1 golfer remained hunkered down at home in an exclusive gated community outside Orlando. He was scheduled to compete at the Chevron World Challenge, which starts Thursday in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The tournament director, however, did not know whether Woods would play or even attend.
When troopers arrived at Woods’ home Sunday, his attorney, Mark NeJame, gave them Woods’ driver’s license, registration and insurance, as required by law for such accidents. This time, the meeting was not rescheduled.
But patrol spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Montes said investigators spoke with the neighbor who made the 911 call on Saturday and might seek out others who were at the scene as well.
“If we have somebody who we feel is pertinent to the investigation, then we will interview them,” she said.
In the 911 call released by the FHP on Sunday, the unidentified neighbor told the dispatcher, “I have a neighbor, he hit the tree. And we came out here just to see what was going on. I see him and he’s laying down.”
The caller did not identify the neighbor as Woods. When asked if the victim was unconscious, the neighbor replied, “Yes,”
Parts of the call were inaudible because of a bad connection. At one point, the voice of a woman is heard yelling, “What happened?”
Yet even the release of the 911 tape and Woods’ statement failed to answer that question and several other.
– Where he was going at that time of the night?
– How did he lose control of his SUV at such a speed that the air bags didn’t deploy?
– Why were both rear windows of the Cadillac Escalade smashed?
– If it was a careless mistake, why not speak to state troopers trying to wrap the investigation?
Montes said authorities towed the Cadillac SUV that Woods was driving and have already documented the damage to the vehicle and the point of impact. According to the FHP accident report, Woods had just pulled out of his driveway when he struck a fire hydrant and then a tree. His wife told Windermere police she used a golf club to smash the back windows to help him out.
“The only person responsible for the accident is me. My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble. She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false,” Woods said.
The reference in his statement to “false, unfounded and malicious rumors” may have involved a story published last week in the National Enquirer alleging that Woods had been seeing a New York nightclub hostess, and that they recently were together in Melbourne, where Woods competed in the Australian Masters.
The woman, Rachel Uchitel, denied having an affair with Woods when contacted by The Associated Press. On Sunday, she flew to Los Angeles and was met by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred at the airport.
Uchitel didn’t speak to reporters except to ask that she be left alone. Allred, however, confirmed to the AP that she would be representing Uchitel.
“We plan to meet and then we’ll decide on the next step, which we do not plan to announce to the press,” the attorney said in an e-mail.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Jacksonville, and Associated Press writers Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles, and Sarah Larimer in Miami contributed to this report.
Note: Golf Channel will air a Golf Central Special on Tiger Woods Monday at 7 p.m. ET, where golf insiders sit down and discuss everything regarding the Tiger Woods car-crash saga.
Photos from the crash
Mell: Tiger's nightmare