Cheetah: The Tiger Woods story

By Carly Crawford

Tiger has been on the prowl. The champion whose cool determination has made him world sport's most marketable athlete suffered a spectacular fall from grace this week when he was outed as a serial philanderer. The golfing ace should have been on top of the world after his Australian Masters win last month. Instead, he has spent six days fighting the perception that his public image as the stand-up family man was little more than a cleverly crafted front that helped make him the world's first $1 billion athlete.

Slowly and painfully, a string of young women and their friends have come forward with text messages, voicemails - even pictures - as evidence of Tiger Woods' infidelity.

The 33-year-old Californian has been left with no choice but to switch his emphatic denials into a vague, ugly admission. "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart," he said. "I have not been true to my values and the behaviour my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect."

His team of minders, headed by his agent Mark Steinberg, has copped criticism for letting the saga spiral out of control through slow and imprecise responses to each twist in this crisis, which started as a small news report about a car crash and snowballed into Woods' undoing.

The story begins in Griffin on Gansevoort, a nightclub in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking district. It is a venue so exclusive its name does not appear on its doors. To get past the rope and on to the red carpet, you need to drop the name of someone inside, or splash some serious cash on the doormen.

Last Tuesday night, inside the club's dark baroque surrounds, a Wall Street trader untucked his shirt, stood up on a velvet armchair and ordered a US$475 ($662) bottle of Grey Goose vodka for his four female companions.

An entrepreneur in the corner celebrated his birthday with a US$10,000 ($13,000) bottle of Cristal, with help from three club hostesses wearing tight black dresses.

Back in May, Woods came here to party and met the club's then-VIP operations manager, Rachel Uchitel, 34. They were seen together that night and crossed paths at least once more, in Las Vegas.

Even now, Uchitel and Woods want the world to believe they had only a passing acquaintance, despite the fact she was in Melbourne during his visit last month, and evidence yesterday his friend paid for her air tickets.

"This is ridiculous. Not a word of it is true," she told the New York Post earlier this week. "I did not go to Australia to see Tiger. I travel all the time. It's part of my job. I'm always travelling with people who are customers, or clients who have become friends. I was down in Australia with friends who were there for a number of different reasons and had nothing to do with Tiger Woods."

But US reports persist about her rumoured romance with Woods, which is said to have triggered the fight between the sportsman and his wife Elin Nordegren that ended with him smashing his car into a tree at 2.30am last Friday, US time.

Uchitel is no stranger to money or drama. Her TV entrepreneur father died in 1991, her first fiance, banker James O'Grady, died in the 9/11 terror attacks, and her only marriage ended in 2004 after four months. Her mother, Susan Bishop, is a well-known Florida socialite and her grandparents once owned New York's famous El Morocco club.

A former television producer for Bloomberg News, Uchitel owns a flash loft apartment in downtown Manhattan. She claims she spends most of her nights there with her two dogs, named Ozzy Osbourne and Rudy Giuliani, and describes herself as a "recluse".

This is despite a flood of pictures online showing the nightclub hostess, who has worked in clubs in Las Vegas and New York since 2006, partying at venues across the US.

A friend of hers believes that despite her denials, she relishes her newfound fame. "She loves the attention," the friend says. "She is so hot and she knows it and she is loving this."

For a moment, it looked like Uchitel would come clean about her alleged affair with Woods, but she cancelled a scheduled press conference.

* * *

Young Californian Jaimee Grubbs was never so coy. The high school track star from Washington state had big dreams to make it in TV. She moved to San Diego where she declined an offer to study at Cal State San Marcos and instead tried working as a model.

Grubbs paid the bills with waitressing work until her TV break in January on the reality TV dating show Tool Academy, in which troubled couples are counselled on air.

Now 24, Grubbs claims she and Woods had 20 sexual encounters over 31 months, beginning in April 2007 when she was 21. As with Uchitel, Woods met Grubbs in a club and, like Uchitel, she was reportedly bombarded with text messages from him. Unfortunately for Woods, Grubbs kept the voicemail message he left her days before his crash.

And she played it for the world online: "Hey, it's Tiger... My wife went through my phone and may be calling you," the message said.

On their first rendezvous, they met at the MGM Grand in Vegas. If the US magazines are to be believed, the hotel was one of Woods' preferred clandestine meeting spots.

It was also here, on the weekend of October 22, that he met Las Vegas marketing executive Kalika Moquin, 27, who, like Uchitel, has publicly dismissed reports of a tryst.

Regardless, Woods' wife had become convinced her superstar husband was playing around. She reportedly attacked his car with a golf club after an argument over his escapades, causing him to crash the vehicle.

Woods initially claimed his "courageous" wife tried to help him after the accident and any other suggestion was "malicious".

But in the wake of a week of revelations about his extramarital activities, she and Woods are now undergoing marriage counselling amid reports Nordegren is renegotiating their prenuptial agreement, which will now net her US$80 million ($111m) if she stays with him seven more years, and stays mum.

* * *

Whether the couple will split remains unclear: Woods' reputation is staked heavily on his family-guy image and the couple have two children - Sam, 3, and Charlie, 10 months. Only this February, they posed for a heartwarming family portrait in which everyone was smiling. But the picture is now very different.

Woods and Nordegren met at the British Open in 2001, when she was working as a nanny for pro golfer Jesper Parnevik.

Having left her homeland of Sweden, where she studied child psychology and worked as a model, Nordegren became a regular on the tour as the pretty minder of Parnevik's kids. Earlier this week, he maintained that he regretted introducing his former employee to Woods.

"I feel really sorry for Elin, since me and my wife were at fault for hooking her up with him," Parnevik said. "We probably thought he was a better guy than he is. I would probably need to apologise to her and hope she uses a driver next time instead of the 3-iron."

It was a different story back in 2001, when Woods, whom his Stanford classmate nicknamed "Urkel" after the Family Matters nerd Steve, finally plucked up the courage to request a date.

At the time he was so shy, he had a mate ask her on his behalf. "Her reaction was, What the hell was that?'," a friend told Sports Illustrated in 2004. "She thought it was so weird and pathetic. Of course she said no."

Besides, the well-educated twin daughter of a Swedish Government minister had no interest in becoming a WAG. "She is a smart girl, raised in a family of intellectuals. She has dreams. She didn't want to be seen just as a decoration on Tiger's arm," the friend said.

Despite that, Woods eventually summoned the courage to ask her out himself and the pair started dating.

Woods and Nordegren married before about 200 of their closest friends at the secluded Barbados resort Sandy Lane in October 2004.

Although the wedding was a lavish US$1.5m (over $2m) affair with rock group Hootie and the Blowfish for entertainment, Woods appeared too composed to be excited.

"He didn't act like he was going to get married," a guest later told People magazine. "He was very relaxed, like this was any other day for him."

All his professional life, he has gone out of his way to keep his private life private. In an entry on his Facebook profile last month, Woods expressed his take on the matter of his personal life.

"I'm asked why people don't often see me and Elin in gossip magazines or tabloids. I think we've avoided a lot of media attention because we're kind of boring," he wrote.

Not any more.

- Herald on Sunday

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