JUPITER, Florida – A man known the world over for his supreme athletic talent, his fierce glare and his unyielding stride is seen wobbling on the side of a roadway in the middle of the night, unable to move in a straight line. Tiger Woods appears unaware of his surroundings on a police dash cam from early Monday morning, baffled in the presence of an officer holding a flashlight. The legendary golfer is shown how to walk in a straight line, one foot precisely in front of the other, and he couldn’t do it.
This sad and stunning scene is the latest fallout from a Memorial Day incident here, in which the legendary golfer was found asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes roughly 15 minutes from his Jupiter Island mansion. The roadside police stop lasted around 30 minutes, with Woods subjected to a series of sobriety tests. He struggled to walk in a straight line, had difficulty following police instructions and slurred when asked to recite the alphabet. Twenty-seven minutes into the video, police asked Woods to put his hands behind his back and placed handcuffs on him.
Initial media reports stating there was alcohol on his breath were wrong, yet it’s clear now that he was under the heavy influence of something. A Woods statement late Monday insisted he reacted poorly to a mix of prescription medications, but it’s still unknown what he was doing out at 2 a.m., and where he was going.
“It’s certainly possible to have a mixture of medications result in decreased level of arousal and sleepiness,” says David Fiellin, a professor of medicine at Yale. “Medications that are commonly prescribed for pain, sleep and other types of disorders can have those types of side effects.”
That seems to make sense, but little else does at this early stage.
Television trucks were parked all day in front of the Jupiter Police Department, which is a short drive from where Woods was found early Monday morning parked on the side of the road, his car pointed south – the opposite direction of his home. That intersection, along Military Trail and Indian Creek, is near a middle school and a Publix shopping center in the Abacoa neighborhood on Jupiter’s outskirts. Interstate 95 lies several long blocks south, stretching toward Boca Raton; the beach is to the east; and the palatial homes of Hobe Sound, where Woods resides, sit about 15 minutes north.
Up the road and over a bridge from the police station is the golfer’s high-end restaurant, The Woods Jupiter. It’s out of season now, but it was still unusually quiet during a Wednesday happy hour. An older couple took a couple of seats at the bar for dinner, and they immediately noticed something different: the TVs. They had always been tuned to the Golf Channel before. On this day it was NBA TV, soccer and racing – programming unlikely to break away to reports of the dash cam video showing the restaurant’s owner stumbling his way through a DUI test.
The couple ordered food and talked Tiger, discussing whether they had sympathy. The woman, named Deborah, said she did. “You spend your whole life staying in shape, and then you can’t follow your passion,” she said. “That makes you depressed.”
Her husband didn’t want to talk, but Deborah continued. “I have empathy for the guy,” she offered. “He’s suffering. And he’s probably alone.” She said she has seen Woods in the area, usually with his kids. She remembers the sight of them trick-or-treating last Halloween.
“He’s a good dad,” she added.
The couple tried to find some historical parallels. “Mickey Mantle,” he suggested. “Elvis,” she said. “We all make mistakes, but ours aren’t for the world to see.”
Although the staff and many patrons at The Woods dress like Tiger, with the curved cap, buttoned shirts and pleated shorts, the icon’s famous grin is surprisingly absent. Artistic photos on the wall hide or blur his face, and even the word “Tiger” is hard to find. A tiny pro shop selling hats and shirts and golf balls sits by the host stand, tucked away by racks of liquor and cigars. The place does not scream Tiger the way the galleries once did.
Outside by the marina, a dock supervisor scanned the area from a golf cart. He said that although Woods has a boat, it’s never here because it draws 9 feet of water and the marina only holds 7.
About a two-hour driver north of Miami, the Jupiter area is known partly for its sports celebrities, from Bill Belichick to Bill Parcells. Ernie Els’ state-of-the-art autism center is here. It’s quiet and removed, and the biggest homes are even more removed – strung along a Hobe Sound inlet that feels like a single-lane path to the Bermuda Triangle. The Woods restaurant, and the entire area of spotless cars and gleaming boats, shows little trace of the rest of the world. The wakes of events, like the wakes of the marina, are subtle.
It is presumably here that Woods will rest and recover, both from his prior surgeries and his image hit. The two of them might be linked now, as Vicodin was listed as one of the drugs he had consumed recently. It is a relief to all that no one was hurt or killed, but Woods’ incident reflects a disturbing trend: illegal and prescription drugs are now found in fatally-injured drivers more often than alcohol, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
While the sports radio talk this week focussed on the historical rank of Woods’ “fall,” his golf career has never been more irrelevant. Wondering when we will see him on a course again is one thing, but now many will wonder when we will see him in any setting, flashing the smile that has temporarily been overshadowed by what we saw in that mugshot and, on Wednesday, in that the police video.
Deborah and her husband asked for the check, which was delivered in a colorful golf scorecard. “Relax in Style,” it read. “Eat Extravagantly. Play Like a Champion.”
By the time they paid, the dash cam footage was bouncing around the Internet.
The couple knew about it, but they didn’t want to see it.