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"Um, can you please, uh, take your name off your phone?" he went on, and now nothing sounded familiar. Tiger wasn't Earl's Jesus, not anymore; he was just another panicky schmuck burned by the Vegas fantasy: Why not hit on that cocktail waitress? "My wife went through my phone and may be calling you," he said. "So if you can, please take your name off that. And, um, whatdoyoucallit: Just have it as a number on the voice mail. Just have it as your telephone number; that's it. O.K.? You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. All right. Bye."
He sounded scared, like a little boy caught clutching a spent book of matches. Woods could feel it coming. For the first time in his life, he was going to be punished.
From the moment he joined the pro tour, in 1996, Woods ran his career with none of the approachability of forebears Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. His camp was always the most self-contained, operating with the sense that what the public wanted most from Tiger was a chance to bear witness. With shirts tightly buttoned and snug ball caps hiding his receding hairline, with his caddie snarling at photographers and his agent reducing the game's long-relaxed idea of access to nothing, with his own cursing and hurling of clubs over shots that dared defy his idea of perfection, Woods's on-course demeanor matched his off-course grip.
That's why, even with the sordid details to come, even with the vision of Health Central Hospital in Ocoee so swamped by media—reporters faking injuries to get admitted, phones jangling in every patient's room—during Woods's eight-hour stay that administrators had to change his alias five times and move him 10, the most jarring scene remains the first. According to the Florida Highway Patrol report released in March and the FHP's sworn interviews with Woods's neighbors, sometime after 2 a.m. on Nov. 27 Woods left his home in an addled rush. Temperatures were in the low 50s. He wore khaki shorts, a blue shirt and no shoes.
Woods climbed into a black 2009 Cadillac Escalade and careered out of his driveway. He hopped a curb onto a grass median, swerved left, crossed the street and hopped another curb, clipping a row of hedges with his right fender. He then crossed to the opposite side of the street, hopped a third curb and, now traveling 30 mph, flattened a fire hydrant before colliding with a tree in the front lawn of his neighbors the Adams family.
By 2:25 a.m., 27-year-old auto detailer Jarius Adams had been alerted to the car on the lawn by his sister, Kimberly Harris. Adams ran outside to find the car and a golf cart with a four-iron and a seven-iron in the seat. He didn't see that the two rear side windows of the Escalade had been shattered. "Could you please help me?" asked Elin. She and Adams had never met. Her husband was lying on his back on the dark, dry street.
Woods didn't speak. His lips were bloodied. "He was actually snoring," Adams said later.
Adams called 911. He and his sister wrapped Woods tightly in a blanket. Elin sat silent, "kind of in shock," Adams told police. For a few moments the street, Deacon Circle, was empty and still.
Yet Woods's wild ride was just beginning, and it already had its first, perhaps most enduring mystery. If, when hurrying into the car, he was trying to escape wife or home or the dawning sense that his carefully crafted world was splintering like some matchstick model, how far did Tiger Woods think he could possibly run?
Earl Woods died of cancer four years ago at 74. It's an article of faith among Tiger watchers that with his father's passing, Tiger lost his foundation stone, the one man who could banter, "You ain't s---" to the king of golf and have Tiger laugh and agree that Dad was right and wrong about that, all at the same time.