The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The doors Tiger Woods still won’t open

Tiger Woods, shown at the Hero World Challenge on Dec. 5, is returning to the spotlight. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
6 min

The new life of Tiger Woods started on a winding four-lane road in Southern California. His career, the most transcendent the sport has ever witnessed, essentially ended right there. But he won’t talk about it.

The events on that February morning can explain why his right leg still ached even 10 months later as he sat through a 36-minute news conference. Woods divulged last month that he’ll never play as a full-time professional golfer again. Despite the feel-good announcement that he will compete with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship, it’s basically over. And the fact that it’s over seems almost unthinkable considering the comebacks he has made from all the surgeries and all the scandals that once threatened his livelihood.

But Woods won’t say what led to his horrific crash Feb. 23 in which county firefighters had to use the Jaws of Life to remove him from his vehicle. Some details are known — he ran into the median, hit a tree, rolled over and broke several bones in his right leg — but he offers no insight into why his car was traveling around 85 mph, almost twice the speed limit on that stretch of road in Rancho Palos Verdes. Nothing about the empty, unlabeled pill bottle found in his backpack at the crash site.

Tiger Woods announces he will return to competitive golf at the PNC Championship

“Yeah, all those answers have been answered in the investigation. So you can read about all that there, in the police report,” Woods mechanically responded to a reporter’s question.

For the past several years, Woods has shown some vulnerability, but only so much. He has been willing to drop the charade of his once-glossy image and reveal the warts. But only so many.

Even though he has allowed the audience behind the curtain, with Tiger, there are always more skeletons locked inside a vault, concealed beyond a velvet rope. The notoriously private and sheltered superstar athlete the public thought it was just getting to know better, or at least understand, will still stand at a distance — and keep this relationship purely transactional.

Woods may think he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for why he nearly lost his leg that day. He has that right, to slam the gates shut and keep the details of one of the worst days of his life to himself. But this time, he shouldn’t expect the forgiving public to simply nod and take him at his word.

The crash could’ve killed him. Woods confessed as much while opening up about the pain and challenges he has endured over this past year; he even thanked a higher power that he’s breathing right now. But even worse, Woods could have killed somebody else. He loves his privacy, but a vehicle hurtling over a median in a residential neighborhood is not a private act.

During the months he toiled through exhaustive rehabilitation and came to accept the reality of his future in golf, it might not have been tasteful to ask why he was driving so recklessly, so fast. Now, as Woods makes a hero’s return to the spotlight, he’s allowing those questions to linger under a cloud of silence.

Everything about that day, he says, has been answered in the police report. Except it hasn’t. Like the question of how he could have been both “calm and lucid” — a claim made by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, whom Woods thanked by name in a statement released months later — as well as “combative” and confused to the point that he thought he was in Florida, according to another deputy’s account.

From April: ‘The Tiger effect?’ New crash details fuel questions about special treatment for Woods.

Also, the closed investigation offers only more questions as to why deputies failed to test Woods’s blood for drugs or alcohol or charge him with an infraction. They didn’t even issue a speeding ticket. Then again, expecting to get answers and the whole truth from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would be a futile exercise.

This is the same coldhearted department responsible for taking and spreading photos of the human remains that might have belonged to Kobe Bryant following the helicopter crash in January 2020. Vanessa Bryant is suing for this invasion of privacy by sheriff deputies and firefighters, and she deserves all the money the county can muster in a civil judgment. And if justice also somehow includes the defeat of Sheriff Alex Villanueva in the next election, even better.

In April, when the crash report was released, Villanueva behaved more like a defense attorney for his department than an elected official who should serve the public and shed light on what happened that day. Villanueva didn’t think it was important to mention the empty pill bottle, despite Woods having blamed a 2017 arrest for driving under the influence on prescription drugs.

So considering which agency conducted the investigation, no, the public shouldn’t believe that everything has been answered in the police report.

The unsettled questions are even more glaring when contrasted with the doors Woods has opened to his life.

It took great self-awareness and humility for Woods to face a room full of reporters and speak so plainly about the power missing in his once-mighty swing. He expects he’ll recover to play tour events again, but even that possibility comes with the asterisk of “one day.”

With each confession, Woods has offered a glimpse into his head space. He’s not an aging athlete thrashing against the fall of his empire but rather a dad approaching 46 and one who has more on his mind than his golf legacy. His acknowledgments of humanity should generate both respect and empathy. Still, there’s not enough applause, no amount of flowers that Woods will accept in exchange for what he desires to keep private. The fortress of protection the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helped him build will keep the public from knowing just what caused the life-changing crash.

The career of the greatest golfer of all time will now be spoken about in the past tense because of what happened on that road, that day. And we may never know why.