|(File) Tiger Woods talks to the press after his practice round on August 11, 2009 at the 91st PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. (AFP photo)|
PALM BEACH, Florida, Dec 27, 2009 (AFP) - One month after his one-car crash touched off a sensational sex scandal that drew the world's attention, Tiger Woods has become an Invisible Man even as his world has collapsed around him.
In the early morning hours of November 27, Woods struck a tree and fire hydrant when he lost control of his car, and was rushed to a hospital with facial cuts and bruises. He hailed his wife Elin as a hero who rescued him by smashing the vehicle's back windows with golf clubs.
But where was he going at such an hour? What made him lose control of the vehicle? Why smash the windows farthest from Woods? Did a tabloid report days earlier about an affair spark a marital spat?
Answers to those questions remain unconfirmed, despite reports from celebrity website and a reckless driving traffic citation against Woods.
However the golf superstar's own admissions of infidelity, "transgressions" and "personal sins" give credence to lurid claims by at least 14 women who say they had affairs with Woods.
In one of the most stunning falls from grace ever seen, Woods's squeaky-clean marketing juggernaut image was destroyed.
An audiotape of a phone call one of the mistresses released with a voice sounding like Woods was followed hours later by a Woods statement vaguely confessing to wrongdoings.
The 14-time major champion, who skipped his own charity event saying that his accident injuries kept him from attending, later announced he was taking an indefinite leave from his pro golf career.
While Woods went undercover, sponsors began pulling his once-omnipresent image from advertisements.
Watchmaker Tag Heuer and razor-blade giant Gillette quit using his image during his hiatus. Telecommunications giant AT&T was reevaluating Woods as a spokesman. Technology, management and outsourcing consultancy Accenture dropped its deal altogether.
Nike however issued unqualified support in Woods's darkest hour.
Reports followed at dizzying speed, the latest being Elin having hired a Hollywood celebrity divorce lawyer and taken her children with Woods -- 10-month-old son Charlie and two-year-old daughter Sam -- to an island home she bought in Sweden.
Clearly, Woods had hopes for a better first Christmas for his son.
Woods was said to be hitting golf balls alone at night to cope with the firestorm. Other reports said he had rekindled a relationship with Rachel Uchitel, the New York show club hostess who was the first mistress revealed.
Uchitel was visiting the same Australian hotel as Woods when he was playing an event Down Under, and claimed she was visiting her parents over the holidays when she showed up in Palm Beach, Florida, close to where Woods has his 20 million-dollar luxury yacht "Privacy" docked.
Bikini-clad beach photos of Uchitel were making the internet rounds over the holiday weekend.
As the scandal unfolded, Woods became a punch line for comedians, with even Disney working a line about the score of alleged Woods affairs into a show at Disneyland.
As 2010 loomed, so did a US PGA Tour season without Woods, whose absence cuts attendance at tournaments and television viewership by 50 percent, adding stress to a sponsor list already weakened by the struggling economy.
A scandal that began with unanswered questions now has one major mystery -- when, if ever, will Woods return to his quest to break the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus?
Nearly everyone with a connection to the matter expects a whirlwind of media attention and huge global interest when Woods plays in his next event, just as they understand why Woods might need a break to cope with the revelations of a life far different than model family-man he portrayed.
Reminding people why they were fascinated with him in the first place could be the road back for Woods, but long months await the superstar once known for his uncanny ability to focus on his game under the most tense pressure.
This time, he's in the game of his life.