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Lorne Rubenstein

Will Woods's accident impact his career? Add to ...

Tiger Woods is a celebrity whose popularity transcends the game that he has utterly dominated since turning professional in the late summer of 1996.

That has only been underscored by the intense interest in what has been described by his manager Mark Steinberg, as well as hospital and police reports, as a "minor accident" that occurred at 2:25 a.m. yesterday as he was leaving his driveway at home in the exclusive Isleworth community in Orlando, Fla.

Every major news organization has been all over this story, from CNN to CBC and around the globe. Yet as of late last night there wasn't much to report except that Woods, winner of 14 majors and 82 tournaments around the world, had run his car into a hydrant just off his driveway, and that the car then hit a tree. His wife Elin heard the accident from inside the house and, with a golf club, bashed in a rear window of the Cadillac SUV to free him.

Police were on the scene within a couple of minutes and found Woods slipping in and out of consciousness, with blood in his mouth. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, treated for facial lacerations and released. The accident was first reported as "serious" and then as "minor." There was no mention of the accident until 12 hours after it occurred. Alcohol was not a factor. Police are continuing to investigate.

Given that Woods was released quickly - and it goes without saying that is great news for him and his wife and their two young children, daughter Sam and son Charlie, not to mention the golf world - one can only assume he will be able to resume his tournament play soon. Just how soon remains to be seen. Woods will play host to the Chevron World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which starts Thursday with a limited, invitation-only field that will include Canada's Mike Weir. Steinberg said he did not know if Woods will play in the tournament.

Certainly questions will be asked about the circumstances of the accident. Woods is supposed to hold a news conference on Tuesday as part of the Thousand Oaks event. Will his team get ahead of the story and issues a news release explaining why Woods was leaving his home in the early hours, and the circumstances of an accident that occurred while he was doing something he must have done thousands of times?

Woods's people at the International Management Group in Cleveland have, with their primary client's close involvement, tended to release information through his website. They may well do that this time, or they could decide on a strategy and deal with the questions that will be asked during the news conference.

Woods, who recently became a billionaire, has had what one can only characterize as a perfect image in the sports world and beyond. Sure, he's thrown golf clubs and thrown the odd F-bomb after hitting a poor shot. He flung a club after a bad drive in the recent Australian Masters, for which he was paid a reported $3-million (U.S.) appearance fee. As always, he came to win. And he won.

Woods has the support of many sponsors, who pay him untold millions. They want to be associated with the 33-year-old winner of 14 major championships not only because he is a brilliant golfer - perhaps the best in history - but because of his image. They along with golf fans will want to know exactly what happened early yesterday morning in the darkness of the exclusive Isleworth community when Woods pulled away from his mansion.

The sponsors that will want to know - or one would think they would, and need to - include, among others, Nike, Upper Deck, Accenture, TAG Heuer, EA Sports, Golf Digest, Netjet, Gatorade, and Gillette. Meanwhile, Kim Montes, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol told The Associated Press that police plan to ask Woods "everything." First reports said nothing about that having happened, the explanation being that Woods was being treated for his injuries.

One thing is certain: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and the sponsors of every tournament in which Woods plays, must have nearly collapsed with worry when the accident was reported. He moves the dial like no other golfer, ever.

Woods was one of only two golfers ranked in the top 50 in the world who played in that recent Australian Masters, and some 25,000 spectators followed him every round. The Hong Kong Open on the same week had 12 players ranked in the top 50. Telecasts of the tournament showed very few people at the tournament.

Woods isn't the only person to have left his home after 2 a.m. But because he is who he is, this story won't end with a headline on his website saying he was released from hospital after a minor accident.

There's no chance of that. Zero.

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