Last week, Tiger Woods took his first public questions since the Thanksgiving accident that sent his life — and, indeed, the entire golf world — into a tailspin. During his two five-minute interviews with ESPN and The Golf Channel, he repeatedly assumed all blame and indicated that he had no assistance or enabling from his inner circle.
It was an interesting claim, given that Woods was the embodiment of a multimillion-dollar corporation and that dozens, if not hundreds, of people had a vested interest in keeping his image pristine. How could someone as visible as Woods commit all the "transgressions" he did, risking untold millions in sponsor dollars, without some assistance, or at least some people willing to look the other way?
Now, an article in the latest Vanity Fair scheduled to hit newsstands nationwide next Wednesday asks that very question, casting doubt on Woods' honesty and forthrightness.
Writer Mark Seal spoke to several of Woods' mistresses and many current and former insiders, and the picture he paints of Woods is vastly different from the one put forth in his public interviews and Feb. 19 statement to the press.
According to Seal, Bryon Bell, Woods' childhood friend and president of Tiger Woods Design, was instrumental in setting up at least some of Woods' liaisons. Seal quotes mistress Jamie Jungers as saying, "Every time I would fly out to see [Woods] or schedule itineraries or anything, I would always go through Bryon."
Mindy Lawton — she's the Perkins waitress, for those of you keeping track — also had contact with Woods' inner circle, according to Seal. Lawton and Woods carried on an affair that was apparently caught on camera by the National Enquirer. When Lawton told Woods that The National Enquirer was aware of their "interaction," he connected her with his agent, Mark Steinberg. Lawton said Steinberg told her, "We'll take care of it." That "taking care of it" allegedly included Woods suddenly giving an uncharacteristic cover-story interview to the Enquirer's sister publication Men's Fitness. When reached on Thursday by Yahoo! Sports, IMG declined comment on the Vanity Fair story.
Incidentally, Lawton said that Woods was so cheap that he only bought her a chicken wrap from Subway. Take that for what it's worth.
But Vanity Fair indicates that it wasn't just Tiger's inner circle covering up for his behavior. Famous names like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan brought Woods along for gambling junkets to Vegas. He'd stay at the Mansion at the MGM Grand, in a one-bedroom suite that ran $5,000 a night. And when he'd bet, he'd bet big -- up to $150,000 a hand of cards.
Barkley and Jordan have had well-documented problems with gambling. Barkley has claimed gambling losses of up to $10 million in the past, and in 2008 had to repay a $400,000 debt to the Wynn Casino. Jordan's gambling was the subject of an NBA probe in the '90s.
Not coincidentally, former Woods advisor John Merchant had no regard for Jordan's influence on Woods: "Stay away from that son of a [profane], because he doesn’t have anything to offer to the [profane] world in which he lives except playing basketball," he allegedly told Woods at the time. More recently, he told Seal, "Are they his black role models? You’ve got to be kidding me." (After the accident, Barkley noted that Woods had changed his number and wasn't returning Barkley's calls.)
Certainly, Woods has said all the right things upon his initial return to public life. And we're very close to the point where Woods starts just playing golf again. But if he's still concealing or playing with the public's trust, the public goodwill that's slowly coming back could vanish in a hurry.