With respect to the bards at Augusta National, who would try to channel Herbert Warren Wind if Godzilla was pulverizing Kong at Amen Corner, this is no time for poetry about Tiger Woods’ absence. The Masters is underway with warm spring temperatures, yet a dark, haunting, almost macabre chill hangs in the Georgia air.
In a February crash he doesn’t remember, on a road with a 45 mph speed limit, Woods was driving an SUV between 84 and 87 mph on a stretch of curvy, downhill pavement. In real life, people who drive this maniacally are presumed to be under the influence, mentally ill or on a death wish. In Tiger’s world, the grisly accident was simply “a solo traffic collision,’’ said the sheriff in Los Angeles County, in southern California, which, by no coincidence, is where Woods grew up and made people proud.
If those official police numbers aren’t disturbing enough, given the opioids-and-THC cocktail consumed by Woods before his 2017 DUI arrest, consider this: The vehicle’s event data recorder indicates he hit not the brake but the accelerator before crossing two oncoming lanes, mauling a “Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates’’ sign and striking a curb before smashing into a tree that sent the SUV airborne in a semi-pirouette. Law enforcement officials, who have pulled muscles protecting Woods since the wreck that left him with potentially crippling leg and ankle injuries, think he might have hit the gas by mistake.
See if that line works the next time you’re in a fender-bender. Last time I couldn’t distinguish between the brake and pedal was in driver’s ed class.
I’m not certain how Alex Villanueva, the sheriff, has a job today. Because when Woods could have killed other drivers or pedestrians that morning, or himself, we’re still not getting answers about why a man with a drug-addictive past was going almost double the speed limit on the back roads of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. And why that man, of considerable wealth and fame, was not charged with reckless driving or even issued a speeding ticket, with Villanueva citing procedure that requires a police officer or independent witness to observe the act to trigger a citation.
And why, despite his troubled history, Woods’ blood was not tested for drugs or alcohol. Deputies at the scene simply took the golf great at face value when they asked if he’d used medication or been drinking before the crash. If this had been anyone else with a fairly recent DUI in the police data base, not to mention his previous SUV crash outside his home in 2009, warrants for blood samples would have been obtained and the tests administered. In Tiger’s world, the police believed him at face value, never mind that he was in a stupor after a crash of which he has no recollection.
“Those questions were asked and answered,’’ said Sheriff’s Capt. James Powers. “There was no evidence of any impairment. There was no odor of alcohol. There are no open containers in the vehicle and no narcotics or any evidence of medication in the vehicle or on his person.’’
So Woods couldn’t possibly have taken prescription drugs — say, earlier in his hotel room — only three weeks after undergoing his fifth back procedure in a life of surgical wards and medication? Why would police assume he wasn’t under the influence just because containers weren’t spotted inside the vehicle — a vehicle that was mangled, by the way, and couldn’t have offered much clarity amid the wreckage? We’re just supposed to accept this speculative rationale as gospel?
Further aspersions were cast when TMZ conducted a deep dive into a 22-page police report, which said sheriff’s deputies found an “empty plastic pharmaceutical container’’ inside a backpack close to the totaled vehicle. According to the report, “The container had no label and there was no indication as to what, if anything, had been inside.’’ Um, did they open the container and take a look? The report also indicated Woods was “somewhat combative,’’ telling emergency medical technicians that he believed he was in Florida. Eerily, he had told police during his 2017 pill bender that he thought he was in California.
Even Villanueva acknowledged Woods was endangering himself and others on the road, saying, “The primary causal factor for this traffic collision was driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway.’’ I mean, bystanders at a nearby resort, where Woods had stayed the previous night, have told the Los Angeles Times that he’d sped recklessly out of the parking lot en route to the ill-fated, early-morning film shoot. Wouldn’t they be considered witnesses?
Doesn’t matter. The investigation is over, says the sheriff, with Woods free to continue his long, excruciating rehabilitation in peace inside his mansion in Jupiter, Fla., the affluent village where he was found asleep at the wheel in a daze four years ago.
The legal system, in this case, has failed America. Tiger Woods ignored the road signs, tried to drag-race himself to an appointment and is very fortunate not to have arranged funerals for himself and others — the vehicular equivalent of holding a loaded gun. But the fix was in from the minute his 2021 Genesis GV80 settled in a twisted, smoking heap 70 feet from the road. Whether they were starstruck or sympathetic to the endless health and personal dramas that have disrupted Woods’ life, Villanueva and his obedient deputies investigated a horrific crash with all the seriousness of a litter violation. When they had every right to consider his drug history and be suspicious about his erratic driving, they refused to hold Woods accountable.
Meaning, I don’t want to be in the same zip code — or county, or state — the next time he drives an SUV. Having been given a break, Woods might push the pedal to 100.
The proper tone, according to the assembled fraternity at Augusta National, is to voice deep sorrow for Woods’ condition and hope that he’ll return to play competitively. Two of his closest friends on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, visited Woods at his home recently and reflect what the golf community feels as a whole: He is missed dearly.
“Spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him,” McIlroy said. “It was good to see him in decent spirits. When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.”
Said Thomas: “I went over and saw him a couple times last week and try to go over whenever I’m home and see him. We texted Friday morning, and he said it’s kind of starting to set in. He’s bummed he’s not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too.”
I feel the same way about Woods, the all-time sportsman, except for the little thing about going 80-something in a 45 zone. I’m also braced for reality. Even if he resumes a normal walking function, which was becoming a problem before the crash, his days of battling for major and even minor championships are over. He’ll serve as a captain of a U.S. Ryder Cup team or two and help his son, Charlie, develop his promising golf skills through his teens. But with a club in his hands, Woods faces a future as a ceremonial player.
Golf will proceed without him. Yet as the first round showed Thursday, it’s unclear who, if anyone, will create interest among the masses. McIlroy hit his father with a wayward shot in what remains a perplexing career. Defending champion Dustin Johnson, on a course playing much more difficult than it did in October, struggled and shot 74. Jordan Spieth, the betting and sentimental fave, already was far behind leader Justin Rose. Bryson DeChambeau, lighter and supposedly smarter about crushing his way to glory, imploded with an early double bogey and bogey.
“I should ask him for an autographed glove,’’ said McIlroy, whose dad must be as mystified as the rest of us.
It only confirmed the obvious: Woods, in recovery, remains golf’s biggest story as the sport fades into meh-dom without him. We forget he has missed the Masters four times in eight years and that his famous final scene, in a life made for a movie, was his comeback victory at Augusta two years ago. Golf needs to move on from Tiger.
But whither Tiger without golf? At this point, his friends are trying to keep him alive and well. “What I want to do for him is just be like, `Dude, I’ll do anything you want,’ ’’ Thomas said. “If you need me to help out with your kids, I can do that. If you’re craving McDonald’s and you want me to bring it over, dude, I don’t care. I’m here for you, and I’ll help out however I can.’’
The unspoken concern at Augusta, of course, is that Woods is dealing with tragic life issues he refuses to address. Are his fellow golfers too intimidated to intervene with tough talk? It should bother his friends — and all of us — that Villanueva’s press conference was followed almost immediately by an online statement from Woods. Was the entire day orchestrated by Tiger and his control-freak agents? “In the last few days, I received word from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that their investigation regarding my traffic accident back on February 23rd in Los Angeles has been completed and closed,’’ Woods wrote. “I am so grateful to both of the good Samaritans who came to assist me and called 911. I am also thankful to the LASD deputies and L.A. firefighter/paramedics, especially L.A. sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez and LAFD Engine Co #106 fire paramedics Smith and Gimenez, for helping me so expertly at the scene and getting me safely to the hospital.’’
Sorry, but my first thought was that he’d cut a deal with the authorities. He publicly thanks them, they let him off. When the heart suggests we should feel compassion and encourage him to walk 72 holes again, amid the dogwoods and azaleas of Georgia, the mind says Tiger Woods was dangerously close to committing manslaughter. Even Herbert Warren Wind would know as much.