In what could prove to be a rare blemish to a billion-dollar brand, Tiger Woods was recovering at his Florida lakeside estate last night after a bizarre collision that sent him to hospital earlier that morning with cuts to his face.
Woods left his home in his 2009 Cadillac SUV around 2:25 a.m. local time. He had pulled out of his home, on a keyhole called Deacon Court, and onto the street, Deacon Circle, when his vehicle ran off the road, according to a police report obtained by several American media outlets. Woods, the lone occupant, drove through a fire hydrant only metres from his home before striking a tree on his neighbour's front lawn, the report said.
His airbags didn't deploy, indicating he was travelling slower than 53 kilometres an hour, Florida Highway Patrol said.
The seemingly minor collision continued to unfold, as Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, came running from their home.
She used a tool of Woods's trade, a golf club, to break the back window of the Cadillac SUV. She told police that she broke the window to get her unconscious husband out of the vehicle. It's not clear if the former model dragged the 180-pound Woods out of the car.
"She supposedly got him out and laid him on the ground. He was in and out of consciousness when my guys got there," local Windermere police chief Daniel Saylor said.
Nordegren was kneeling over him when police arrived. Woods had lacerations to his lips and blood in his mouth, Saylor said, and was taken to hospital - thus classifying the collision as "serious," and later sparking a frenzy of coverage. He was treated and released shortly after.
Alcohol was not involved, the police report said.
"Tiger Woods was in a minor car accident outside his home last night. He was admitted, treated and released today in good condition," a statement from the golfer's representatives said.
The police report indicates "charges are pending." All that remained of the hydrant yesterday was a small hole in the ground, covered by a road hazard sign.
News of a collision involving one of the most recognizable figures in the world stayed quiet, however, for nearly 12 hours. Florida Highway Patrol say they didn't publicize the incident because the injuries were considered minor, though the police report called them "serious."
With news of the crash kept quiet, Woods was able to return to his estate away from the scrutiny of television cameras. A woman who answered the door of his $2.4-million home last night refused comment to a local Orlando Sentinel reporter. Another Cadillac SUV, undamaged and not believed to be the one involved in the collision, sat in the driveway, the paper reported.
Speculation has swirled as to what caused the crash as Woods's representatives remain tight-lipped. Florida officials said tapes of the 911 call will be released next week.
The crash came two days after a tabloid, the National Enquirer, published a story alleging that Woods was cheating on Nordegren, mother of his two young children, and having an affair with New York socialite Rachel Uchitel. The family has earlier sued publications for making such allegations, winning a $183,250 (U.S.) settlement against an Irish magazine that published false nude photos said to have been of Nordegren.
Leading celebrity gossip website TMZ.com quoted a Florida law enforcement official calling the crash "a domestic issue." It was refuted by a Highway Patrol spokeswoman.
"Right now we believe this is a traffic crash. We don't believe it is domestic issue," Sergeant Kim Montes said.
PGA Tour veteran Mark Wilson speculated the top-ranked American golfer might have been headed to the gym.
"Knowing him, he was probably leaving for an early morning workout," Wilson told the Sentinel.
Woods's estate is part of an exclusive subdivision near Orlando, a community set on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a chain of small lakes - Woods's property backs on to Lake Palmer. The neighbourhood is fortified with high brick walls and its own security force, and is home to other sports stars such as Cleveland Cavaliers centre Shaquille O'Neal.
Woods is the world's top-ranked golfer, with 82 victories and 14 majors to his name. Forbes recently projected he'd be the first athlete to break the billion-dollar mark in earnings. The majority of that, at least $900-million, comes from endorsement deals with such giants as Nike, Buick, Gillette and TAG Heuer. He has notoriously guarded their personal life - his yacht is named Privacy - in building the global brand that attracts such companies.
Woods is set to play host to the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., beginning next Thursday. His spokesman told The Associated Press that he did not know if Woods planned to play in the event.
With a report from The Associated Press
Tiger Woods' home near Orlando