Acting on a tip, the National Enquirer was hot on Tiger's trail once again. Back in 2007, it had seemed like a coup when IMG and sophisticated lawyers managed to squelch the Enquirer story about Woods and the pancake-house waitress in Orlando. But after that great escape, Tiger overlooked the fact that tabloids are like sharks that can detect prey from the scent of a single drop of blood in the water. Once Woods was wounded in '07, the Enquirer never stopped tracking him — and after Uchitel entered the picture, the chase was on. The tabloid staked out her apartment and waited to see what would happen.
"It just became, well, let's follow her," said a source at the Enquirer.
"Following people looks good on TV, but in real life the success rate is, like, two per cent. Amazingly, this actually worked out all the way right up to the room."
The room in question turned out to be a suite on a special floor at the Crown Towers in Melbourne, Australia, where Woods was staying during the Australian Masters. Uchitel was headed there after receiving this email from Bryon Bell: "Here are the details for all the flights. Sorry for all the changes. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow."
Bell was a critical cog in the setting up and maintaining of the secrecy of Tiger's trysts. But this time a surveillance team photographed Uchitel's arrival at the Melbourne airport and hotel. Then, as she entered an elevator on her way to the thirty-fifth floor, an Enquirer reporter slipped inside and confronted her as she walked to Woods's suite. At first Uchitel denied any connection to Woods, but the futility of that approach quickly became apparent. She eventually returned to the US, leaving Team Tiger to sort out how to handle its most explosive scandal to date.
While performing a staggering juggling act in his private life, Tiger won the Australian Masters by two strokes and pocketed a $3 million appearance fee. Afterward, he talked at length with Australian golf writers about the nuances of shot-making. "I felt this was a tricky golf course in a sense," he said. "It's not overly long, but you can hit marginal shots and have them in pretty bad spots. You had to make sure that you understood where to miss the golf ball. That's one of the things that I love on a golf course — it gets fast like this, and you have to manoeuvre the golf ball correctly."
Woods's press conference was an insightful illustration of the compartmentalisation performed by a man living a double life. At a time when he was careening toward a steep cliff that threatened to expose his duplicity and ravage his marriage, he calmly talked about the thrill he derived from shaping a shot away from danger zones. Immune for so long to the responsibilities of everyday life, Woods had, no doubt, developed a gaping blind spot that covered the consequences of his narcissistic ways, enabling him to believe he could cheat on his wife with impunity and forever escape detection.
On the other hand, it's also possible that the high-stakes risks he was taking with so many women — arranging clandestine trysts and lying about his singular devotion to each woman on his overgrown list of paramours — may have breathed oxygen into his creative genius as a golfer.
Perhaps Woods had scaled Everest so many times as an athlete that he was forever searching for external sources of adrenaline rushes — deepwater diving, Navy SEAL training, extreme workouts. The women in his life, in that respect, were just another way to fill a void and satisfy an urge. As strange as it may sound, Tiger played some of his best golf in the years when his life was most out of control. It was as if the chaos in his life outside the ropes propelled his play on the course to new heights.
But on the flight home from Melbourne, a feeling of foreboding set in.
Back in Isleworth, he confided to a fellow pro: "I think I'm about to come out on the wrong side of a big media story."
Complicating matters was the fact that despite her attempts at discretion when confronted by the reporter in Australia, Uchitel had previously disclosed details of her affair with Woods to other people, one of whom had passed a polygraph and sold her story to the Enquirer.
Woods tried to get the story killed. "We probably heard from every lawyer Tiger's ever employed in his life," said a source at the Enquirer.
This time, however, there would be no deal to save him from exposure.
With his gold-plated, family-friendly reputation facilitated by the likes of Nike and Disney and American Express, Woods was too alluring a target.
For the better part of four years, he'd managed to elude the Enquirer. But now the superhero-like athlete with the magnetic smile that appeared on everything from Wheaties boxes to airport billboards was finally locked in the tabloid's crosshairs.
"You don't go in until you have the smoking gun, and then it really doesn't matter what they say," a source at the Enquirer said. "Then it's like, 'Go ahead and sue me.' And we'll sue you for malicious prosecution."
When it became apparent that even the combined forces of IMG and a platoon of high-priced lawyers were not going to be able to derail the story, Woods and his team started circling the wagons. Mark Steinberg telephoned Hank Haney, who was on his way to China to establish a junior golf academy. "Hank, I want to give you a heads-up," Steinberg told him. "There's going to be a story coming out about Tiger and this girl. It's not true. Everything is going to be fine. But if anybody asks you about it, don't say anything."
Steinberg also sent a text to Steve Williams: "There is a story coming out tomorrow. Absolutely no truth to it. Don't speak to anybody."
It fell to Woods to convince his wife. He told her the tabloid story was a lie, that there was no affair between him and Uchitel. But on Monday, November 23, in advance of publication, the Uchitel exposé began circulating on the internet. It contained a quote attributed to her that read like a dagger directed at Elin: "It's Tiger Woods. I don't care about his wife!
We're in love."
Blindsided, Elin didn't know what to believe. It was the week of thanksgiving, and little Charlie had just learned to walk and was starting to say his first words. For Elin, these were monumental milestones of joy. But the suspicions in her mind were making it impossible to focus on anything else. In need of someone to confide in, she called the one person she trusted above all — her identical twin, Josefin. They had been best friends since childhood. Elin knew Josefin would know what to do.
After obtaining a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Josefin received her law degree in Sweden and joined the American-based firm McGuireWoods LLP. When Elin called her, Josefin was working out of the firm's London office, where she specialised in mergers and acquisitions. She immediately came to her sister's aid, providing emotional support and advice.
With the situation worsening, Woods took the extraordinary step of arranging a phone call between Elin and Uchitel, who corroborated Tiger's account that there had been no sexual relationship between them.
Unconvinced, Elin wanted to see Tiger's phone. Afraid that she would find out about the other women in his life, Tiger frantically tried to cover his tracks. He left an urgent voicemail with Jaimee Grubbs: "Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off ... [and] just have it as a number on the voicemail. You've got to do this for me. Huge.
Quickly. All right. Bye."
The following day, the Enquirer landed on supermarket racks in the Orlando area. It was the day before thanksgiving, and the "World Exclusive" headline "Tiger Woods Cheating Scandal" splashed across the cover intensified the already dire atmosphere in the Woods home. The tension was amplified by the fact that Tiger's mother was visiting for the holiday.
Nothing triggered anxiety in Woods like the fear of disappointing his mother, and nothing had ever disappointed Kultida more than family betrayal — first when her parents abandoned her, and then when her husband was repeatedly unfaithful. It was overwhelming to contemplate how she would react to the realisation that her son had far eclipsed his father in the infidelity department.
The holiday provided a false appearance of reprieve. The Enquirer story got very little play elsewhere. But Tiger's cell phone was an explosive electronic record of his illicit affairs. His device had also become another addiction. On Thanksgiving Day, Woods couldn't resist texting multiple women, including Grubbs. In a short exchange, he wished Grubbs a happy thanksgiving, and she replied, "u too love."
At the same time, Elin remained fixated on Tiger's phone. After he fell into an Ambien-induced sleep on thanksgiving night, she searched his text history. She found one from him that said: "You are the only one I've ever loved." He had not sent that text to her.
Unsure of the recipient's identity, Elin sent a text to the person from Tiger's phone. It read, "I miss you. When are we seeing each other again?"
Before long, a reply came back. While her husband slept, Elin called the mysterious number, and Uchitel picked up. Immediately recognising her voice, Elin lost it.
In the intense moments that followed, Woods awoke and emerged from his home barefoot in the middle of the night and got into his SUV.
Speeding out of his driveway, he lost control, clipping a hedge and swerving into his next-door neighbour's yard, driving over a fire hydrant and ploughing into a tree. When police arrived after responding to a 911 call from Tiger's neighbour, they found that the windows on both sides of the back seat of his vehicle had been smashed out with a golf club that had been swung by Elin.
Renowned marriage therapist Esther Perel has worked with hundreds of couples who have been shattered by infidelity. "Few events in the life of a couple, except illness and death, carry such devastating force," Perel said.
In her best-selling book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Perel explains that the agony suffered by a betrayed spouse goes much deeper than just a violation of trust. "It's a shattering of the grand ambition of romantic love. It's a shock that makes us question our past, our future, and even our very identity. Indeed, the maelstrom of emotions unleashed in the wake of an affair can be so overwhelming that many psychologists turn to the field of trauma to explain the symptoms: obsessive rumination, hyper-vigilance, numbness and disassociation, inexplicable rages, uncontrolled panic."
In the case of Tiger Woods, it would be an understatement to say that Elin's discovery of his infidelity unleashed a maelstrom of emotions. As Woods lay unconscious on the road at 2:25am on November 27, 2009, blood on his teeth and lips, he finally appeared as he truly was — a vulnerable, fragile, deeply wounded person. In shock, Elin tended to the man who had broken her heart — placing a pillow under his head, slipping socks on his feet, covering him with a blanket, and pleading with him to open his eyes. Frantic, Kultida ran from the house, yelling, "What happened?
What happened?" Soon police officers and paramedics were on the scene, asking the same question. As Tiger was placed on a gurney and rolled toward an ambulance, he momentarily opened his eyes and tried to speak. His lips moved, but there were no words. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, as if he were dead. Elin screamed and Kultida wept as the medics closed the doors and the ambulance lights slowly faded into the Florida night.