JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- All anyone needs to know about Tiger Woods off the golf course is what he named his yacht: Privacy.
Woods gave up a big piece of that when he left Stanford after two years, turned pro with a "Hello, World" ad campaign and a $40 million endorsement deal, then quickly became one of the most recognizable athletes on Earth. He will invite some people into that world, but only so far.
Earlier this month in Shanghai, while playing a pro-am round at Sheshan International in a World Golf Championship, Woods revealed he was staying in a cluster of mansions on an island in the middle of the course. Some of the estates were valued at $14.5 million, and Woods could not believe the extravagance of these homes. Approaching the island, he was asked which one he was staying in.
"Oh, one of those over there," he said dismissively.
It was a clear example of the world's No. 1 player giving a morsel of insight, but not much more.
Once asked why he enjoyed scuba diving so much, Woods replied: "The fish don't know who I am."
It's amazing that Woods has managed to keep such a thick wall around his personal life in the 14 years he's commanded the spotlight. The last time his name might have been on any police report was when he was mugged going back to his dorm at Stanford in 1994.
In response to a query on his Facebook account in October, Woods said he and his wife, Elin, had managed to stay out of gossip magazines and tabloids.
"I think we've avoided a lot of media attention because we're kind of boring," was the reply.
That changed Friday with a news release from the Florida Highway Patrol that Eldrick Tiger Woods, 33, of Windermere, struck a fire hydrant and a tree shortly after pulling out of his driveway.
Then came word of a small photo of Woods on the cover of the National Enquirer , alleging an affair with a New York night club hostess. The woman denied the story and flew to Los Angeles on Sunday to meet with high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.
Woods has had a general distrust of the media since a 1997 interview with GQ magazine in which he was quoted as telling racy jokes in the back seat of a car. He rarely spends much time in an interview, his answers always guarded.
The only criticism Woods has faced was not taking a stronger stand on social issues, such as the all-male membership at Augusta National Golf Club; not playing more tournaments; or for cursing and throwing a club during competition.
But in all those cases, it was short-lived. Questions about his car crash, however, will linger as long as Woods keeps it a mystery. He has dealt with a sporting media most of his life. Now he steps into the realm of celebrity media, which is far more relentless.
Would it not be wise to face the media, no matter how embarrassing, and move on? It seemed to have worked for David Letterman, who even made a few jokes at his expense.
That's simply not Woods' style. He can be self-deprecating, but only in the best of times. He could easily go into hiding for the next two months. Hardly anyone saw him in public for four months after his knee surgery last year.
That won't make the story go away. For all the records he is chasing inside the ropes, this might prove to be his greatest challenge.