The price Tiger Woods looks likely to pay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 December, 2009, 12:00am

In control one moment, the butt of ridicule the next - that is the personal tragedy of the spectacular fall from grace of Tiger Woods, perhaps the best golfer the world has ever seen. His hitherto squeaky-clean image, the key to US$100 million a year in commercial sponsorship, is being assailed with jokes and skits about him on US network television, and even during half-time entertainment at American football games.

This is unlikely to stop so long as there are still questions to be answered about his private life. A media frenzy began after Woods suffered facial injuries when he crashed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree while backing out of the driveway of his Florida home. His wife reportedly used a golf club to smash a window to free him.

Now the number of women who claim to have had a liaison with him, the first of whom emerged two days before the crash, has snowballed into double figures. But Woods has remained silent, except for a statement regretting extramarital transgressions and seeking privacy.

The bid to keep control and maintain privacy reflects the characteristics associated with his golfing prowess and brand value. But in an unfolding scandal involving sex, infidelity, fame and fortune, his continued silence has stirred the media frenzy. The airwaves are awash with unsolicited advice from public relations experts that if Woods is to salvage his image, he must come out of hiding and clear the air.

Even if that means revealing his vulnerability in a cathartic session on the couch on The Oprah Winfrey Show, it is better than continuing diminishment in the eyes of the public and his many sponsors. None have severed their association with him yet, but commercials featuring him have stopped running on US television.

Woods can take heart from the experience of English soccer star David Beckham, who bounced back from an accusation of marital infidelity five years ago. But he is likely to have to make himself more accessible and make do with less privacy. That is not a high price to pay for putting his life back on track.