How Tiger Woods got away with cheating
The same morning US tabloid the National Enquirer splashed "Tiger Woods Cheating Scandal" across its front cover, the golf star's mother, Kultida, arrived at his family home for Thanksgiving celebrations.
The timing was terrible. The days prior had been among the hardest in Woods' life, with news of the impending story filtering through to the then 33-year-old from his stressed-out team of managers and lawyers, who had attempted in vain to kill it. Urgent calls were made to everyone in Woods' fiercely protective inner circle, warning them not to speak to anyone in the press under any circumstances.
The calls were largely unnecessary: they already knew the party line. After all, this had happened before.
THE COVER-UP: HOW 2007 EXPOSE WAS SQUASHED
The National Enquirer had almost published explosive details of another Tiger Woods affair two years prior. Woods had been conducting a series of trysts with Mindy Lawton, a waitress who worked at a diner near his home, where he and his wife regularly breakfasted. "Elin would read the paper while Tiger ogled my sister," Lawton's sister would later note.
Soon, Woods began chasing Lawton, inviting her to the Blue Martini, a nightclub where he would hold court, his privacy protected in a VIP section patrolled by his own security.
Woods was brazen, shielded by a network of heavies, lawyers, trusted friends and minders who facilitated such affairs. That same night, he and Lawton went home together, beginning a fourteen-month affair that overlapped with at least one other affair, and the conception and birth of Woods and Elin's first child.
Although Woods and his wife were frequent customers at the diner, he was less than subtle about the situation, simply waiting in the car park in his Escalade for Mindy to finish her shift, before the pair left in separate cars, her driving closely behind.
Woods clearly felt invincible during this time, more so after he was able to negotiate his way out of the affair almost being exposed by the National Enquirer, who had secretly snapped a series of compromising photographs of Woods and Lawton in a church carpark early one spring morning.
The story was a massive score for the Enquirer, evidence that the squeaky-clean Woods wasn't as pure as many thought. The publication also claimed to have evidence the relationship had been consummated.
But Woods' high-powered management firm IMG and a team of 15 lawyers were able to kill the story in exchange for an exclusive cover interview and photo shoot in sister magazine Men's Fitness, where Woods waxed rhapsodical about his exercise and dieting regimen over 12 pages.
At the time, Woods notoriously avoided giving interviews to the print media, so this scoop was a far bigger deal for the company than a few blurry photos of an alleged affair. Men's Fitness editor Neal Boulton claimed Woods' team asked "What do we have to do not to let this get out?" then made it happen. Boulton was disgusted by the backroom deal, resigning over the unethical decision.
THE SMOKING GUN
Two years on there was no such hope. Despite "every lawyer Tiger's ever employed in his life" contacting The Enquirer in order to kill the story, there was no chance of a deal being struck.
"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."
Woods had almost managed to convince his wife Elin that the latest story was a complete fabrication. He had gotten in front of the scoop and explained to her how the rumours were just that.
Then, two days before the expose hit supermarket shelves across the country, an advanced quote from Woods' mistress circulated. Even more callous in black and white, a woman named Rachel Uchitel bleated: "It's Tiger Woods. I don't care about his wife! We're in love."
Elin Woods was stunned. The following day, a desperate Woods organised for his wife to speak on the phone to Uchitel about the quote that set the internet on fire. Not surprisingly, Uchitel explained to an unconvinced Elin that the pair hadn't conducted a sexual relationship. It was all just rumours.
With the story set to hit supermarket stands the day before Thanksgiving, Elin asked to see Woods' phone. His lies were unravelling.
Elin briefly checked Woods' phone the evening before the 2009 story hit, prompting him to panic and clumsily attempt to cover his tracks by erasing contacts and messages.
In his frenzy, he called Jaimee Grubbs, a cocktail waitress he had been seeing since meeting her in an LA club in April, 2007, when Grubbs was just 21.
When she didn't answer, Woods left a voice message. "Hey, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favour. 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. Just have it as a number on the voicemail. You've got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. All right. Bye."
In his panicked state, Woods was leaving evidence that would come back and bite him in less than a week.
The following morning, the National Enquirer story came out. Although it was a bombshell, the timing was quite fortuitous for Woods, with the following day being Thanksgiving, a notoriously quiet news day.
But in a move too stupid to comprehend, given Elin's recent examination of his phone, Woods shot out a series of loved-up text messages to his mistresses on Thanksgiving, including a short text to Grubb, to which she replied, "u too love."
That same evening, after Woods had gone to bed, Elin scoured his phone more thoroughly, and found a disturbing message from Woods to an unknown number: "You are the only one I've ever loved."
Elin froze. She didn't recognise the number, but sent a message to it, writing, "I miss you. When are we seeing each other again?" When the mysterious recipient messaged back, she called the number. Rachel Uchitel answered, the same woman who had sworn blind just days earlier that her and Woods weren't having an affair.
THE SECRET WOMAN
Uchitel had led an interesting life. She graduated in 1996 with a psychology degree, but immediately slid into news television, working as a producer at Bloomberg. Her fiance was killed in the 9/11 attacks, and a photo of a distraught Uchitel holding a photo of him was published in the New York Post, reproduced in press worldwide as a symbol of the devastation.
She left television work shortly afterwards and started working as a VIP hostess in some of the most exclusive clubs in Las Vegas, and New York. It was during this period that she started seeing Woods.
After getting confirmation of the affair from Uchitel, Elin flew into a rage. As with most domestic arguments, the details are only known to the participants, but what is known is that a barefoot Tiger Woods hastily exited his house shortly before 2:25am, and attempted to speed out of his driveway in his Cadillac Escalade. He clipped a hedge and lost control of the vehicle, swerving into his next door neighbour yard, smashing through a fire hydrant and into a tree. The emergency workers who came to his aid reported that both of the back passenger windows had been smashed out with a golf club by Elin. The jig was up.
Woods pulled out of his own golf tournament in LA that week, citing the heavy media presence in the city, which would take the focus off golf. The focus was certainly not on golf by Tuesday, when US Weekly published a tell-all by Grubb detailing their 31-month relationship, providing the publication with over 300 text messages, including one that charmingly reads, "I will wear you out."
The US Weekly website also uploaded the panicked voice message Woods had left a week earlier, the one that begins, "Hey, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favour …"
The hits to Woods' image kept coming in the early weeks of December. A number of other women came out with stories of their own sordid affairs with the golfer, and a pattern of lurid behaviour was emerging. A dozen women had now been linked to the golfer, with further unsubstantiated reports pushing this number higher still. A video uploaded to an adult site six months earlier by porn actress Holly Sampson was unearthed, in which she discusses sleeping with the golfer at his 2004 buck's night.
On December 11, less than three weeks since the National Enquiry feature first hit news stands, Tiger Woods came clean. "I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children," Woods wrote. "After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," the statement continued. "I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."
THE AFFAIR CO-ORDINATOR
Ten years on from the day Woods' world came crumbling down, the most surprising aspect of the affair is how one of the world's most famous and recognisable people could get away with such shameless infidelity, at such a frequent level, with multiple women.
The bold manner in which he conducted a number of these affairs helped. He was hiding in plain sight.
Although Woods didn't seem to consider the ramifications of texting multiple women, or leaving nervous voicemail messages, it seemed he kept one step removed from any other forms of organisation, avoiding paper trails from hotel bills and flight bookings.
Woods' childhood friend Bryon Bell is President of Tiger Woods Design, but it would seem his actual job was co-ordinating Woods' many affairs. In the aftermath, a number of Woods' mistresses mentioned Bell as the one who would organise their accommodation and the details of the meet-ups with Woods.
The same month the Enquirer story about the affair with Uchitel was published, Bell organised for her to fly from New York to Melbourne, to visit Woods at the Australian Masters, where he was playing.
Emails obtained by TMZ a week after the scandal broke shows how Bell organised and paid for Uchitel to fly from New York to Australia. Bell also paid for her room at the Crown Towers Hotel in Melbourne, the same place Woods was staying.
"I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply," Woods admitted later after going to rehab for a sex addiction. "I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.
"I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them."
This is the crux of Woods' behaviour. He did it because he could. To quote Walter White, who had previously insisted his horrific actions were in service of his family: "I did it for me. I liked it."
In the end, it was Woods' hubris that carried him through, and let him get away with hundreds of indiscretions, but it was this same hubris that saw his life collapse so stunningly.
Nathan Jolly is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @nathanjolly