By Jim Loney Jim Loney – Mon Nov 30, 5:56 pm ET
MIAMI (Reuters) – Tiger Woods pulled out of a golf tournament this week, the latest fall-out from a minor car accident that has left a swirl of mystery and a hint of scandal around the world’s top golfer and pushed him into full damage control.
The Florida Highway Patrol said in a terse statement on Monday that it was pursuing the crash investigation but had still not been able to interview Woods, who declined to meet with investigators during the weekend.
Woods pulled out on Monday of the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, California, a tournament he has hosted for nine years. He said he could not attend the event that starts on Thursday because of injuries suffered in the accident.
The greatest golfer of his generation and an unparalleled product pitchman whose personal fortune is estimated at $1 billion, Woods was hospitalized briefly on Friday after his Cadillac Escalade hit a fire hydrant and a tree as he left the driveway of his Windermere, Florida, home after 2 a.m.
Woods met Florida’s legal requirement by providing police with his driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance, and is not obliged to volunteer medical records, video from home security cameras or anything else investigators might want, prominent Florida lawyer Roy Black said.
“Any lawyer with a brain in their head is not going to allow him to talk to the police because nothing good can come of talking to the police,” said Black, who defended William Kennedy Smith, a member of America’s Kennedy clan, against a rape charge, and radio host Rush Limbaugh in a drug fraud case.
Woods said in a written statement on Sunday that the accident was his fault and was “obviously embarrassing to my family and me.” He called irresponsible the “many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me.”
TABLOIDS AWASH WITH SPECULATION
Tabloid media and celebrity websites are awash with speculation that Woods and his wife, Elin, had been arguing before the crash. The National Enquirer has reported that Woods had an extra-marital relationship with a “New York City party girl.” The woman named in that report has denied a relationship.
The Florida Highway Patrol said it had not made any comments on Woods’ medical information, an apparent reference to a published report that investigators were seeking a search warrant for the hospital where the golfer was treated to obtain his medical records.
Under Florida law, Woods has a right to keep medical information private, but Black said under certain circumstances police have been able to seize hospital records.
“Unfortunately, yes. That was the issue in Rush Limbaugh’s case and the court upheld the use of a search warrant to seize medical records,” he said. “But they (police) would have to convince a judge that there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.”
One of the world’s most recognizable figures, Woods has lucrative endorsement deals with companies such as Nike and AT&T. So far, signs are that companies are standing by the popular golfer.
The chatter about the greatest golfer of his generation and, according to Forbes magazine the world’s first billionaire athlete, was fueled in part by the circumstances — why was he leaving home at 2:25 a.m.? — and in part by a hint of trouble in the Woods household.
The Enquirer report said that a New York nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel, had been “telling friends about a jet-set liaison” with the golfer. Uchitel has issued a denial.
“I did not have any involvement with him,” E! News quoted Uchitel as saying.
Woods’ handlers have done the right thing by keeping their client away from the police, Black said, citing the recent case of U.S. television talk show host David Letterman, who two months ago revealed he was the target of a $2 million blackmail plot, then admitted having affairs with women on his staff.
“By reporting that blackmail attempt to the police, all he did was guarantee that all his dirty laundry would be played out in the news media,” Black said. “Tiger Woods is a lot smarter, so far at least.”
But William Moran, an attorney whose practice with the New York office of McCarter and English includes crisis management, said Woods would have been wiser to meet with the police.
“His problem that he’s now facing is that he’s possibly running the risk of turning himself from a victim into an offender here, if the police determine that he is obstructing justice or tampering with evidence,” Moran said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Ben Klayman in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)