Tiger Woods acknowledges the crowd as he approaches the 18th green in the… (Mark Dadswell / Getty Images )
The initial media reports that instantly spread around the globe sounded dire: Tiger Woods had been "seriously" hurt in a car accident early Friday and was hospitalized.
It turned out the superstar golfer's injuries, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, weren't as dreadful as the word "serious" implied in the police report. But as additional details emerged, it appeared Woods certainly suffered more than a fender bender.
Woods, 33, was backing out of his driveway in the Isleworth community near Orlando, Fla., at 2:25 a.m. when he struck a fire hydrant and then hit a neighbor's tree, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
It was almost 12 hours before the police issued an accident report, and it is still unknown why Woods was out driving at that hour and much about the incident remains unclear.
After the first news reports about the accident, Woods' website in the afternoon issued a terse statement saying he was in "good condition," after being treated and released from Health Central Hospital in nearby Ocoee, Fla.
The Associated Press later Friday quoted a local police chief as saying Woods' wife, Elin, used a golf club to smash the back window to get Woods out of his 2009 Cadillac sports utility vehicle after she heard the accident and came outside.
Woods had cuts to his lips, blood in his mouth and was lying in the street, with his wife nearby, and was in and out of consciousness when officers arrived, Windermere Police Chief Daniel Saylor said. At one point Woods woke up and tried to get up but lost consciousness.
FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said troopers arrived at the Woods' home early Friday evening to talk to the golfer, and that his wife told them Woods was resting and asked them to return this morning, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The troopers agreed to do so.
The FHP's news release said alcohol was not considered a factor in the accident, and that the crash remained under investigation.
The airbags in Woods' SUV did not deploy, according to the FHP, and it was unknown whether Woods was wearing a seat belt.
Saylor said his responding officers did not hear anything about an alleged argument between Woods and his wife, according to AP.
"Right now we believe this is a traffic crash. We don't believe it is a domestic issue," Montes said.
But owing to the authorities' technical language in the case of accidents, the world was stunned with headlines of Woods' "serious" injury that appeared on media websites from Los Angeles to London, aired on television and arrived on fans' Blackberrys and mobile phones.
The news release listed the injuries as "serious" because patients' conditions are always classified that way if they are transported to a hospital, FHP spokesman Jorge Delahoz told the Orlando Sentinel.
The media frenzy the word "serious" ignited was "illustrative not only of Woods' global fame, but of the rapidity with which the media can spread news whether it is entirely accurate or not," said David Carter, executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute.
Woods, of course, is the world's No. 1 golfer. He has won 82 times worldwide and captured 14 major tournaments, and this year he also became the first athlete to reach the $1-billion mark in career earnings through prize money, endorsements and other income, Forbes magazine estimated.
Woods can make or break TV ratings simply by choosing to play in a tournament. He has a net worth of $600 million, according to Forbes.
While authorities "may characterize [the injuries] very technically," today's instant media communication "leads to banner headlines, which makes everybody wonder what the impact could be if, for any reason, he was to miss a series of tournaments," Carter said.
In fact, the accident occurred leading to next week's Chevron World Challenge, an 18-player tournament hosted by Woods at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.
The four-day tournament starts Thursday, and Woods is scheduled to hold a news conference there Tuesday.
Woods missed last year's tournament, which supports the Tiger Woods Foundation, because he was recovering from surgery on his left knee.
He was scheduled to rejoin the field this year, but Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent, told the Associated Press on Friday that he did not know if Woods still planned to play.
Tournament officials did not elaborate on Woods' appearance beyond the golfer's statement on the website tigerwoods.com.
Woods won six times this season. Although he did not win a major tournament, he said he considered the year successful because he wasn't sure how his knee would respond after months of rehabilitation.