Recalling start of Tiger Woods' downfall

Could anyone have predicted the fallout from Tiger Woods' single-car crash last Thanksgiving night? The stories that came flooding out of Woods' life stunned not just golf fans, but the entire world.

ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Jason Sobel discuss those early days and more in their e-mail chat, Alternate Shot.

You know, as journalists, when we're asked to reminisce about a notable milestone, it's usually to recall the significance of witnessing an epic achievement in person. Where were you when Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters? What was it like being there for Phil Mickelson's first major win? How about Tom Watson's incredible journey at last year's British Open?

You get the idea. The news of Tiger Woods' single-car accident in front of his home one year ago this week doesn't exactly fit the mold. And yet, I'll never forget where I was when the news broke. How about you, Bob? Do the memories come flooding back today?

No doubt. I was on a golf course, the day after Thanksgiving, no reason in the world for the office to call. When they did and said Tiger had been in a "serious" accident, obviously a million thoughts go through your mind.

That is what I remember the most. Because the first reports had him being in "serious condition" -- when, in truth, he had already been released from the hospital and had been home for hours -- you naturally wonder about his physical well-being. For the first few hours, the story had a much different kind of ominous tone.

I think we've all learned some lessons from this entire story. The biggest one I learned? Always travel with your laptop. I had left it at home while visiting family during the Thanksgiving holiday, because, well, there's never any major news in golf that week.

Or so we thought. I was actually out to lunch when my cousin asked me what happened to Tiger Woods. When I replied with a blank stare, he showed me the initial wire story on his phone regarding the accident. Needless to say, I never finished lunch -- somewhere, there's half of a turkey sandwich still waiting for me. After that, well, as you know, it was a series of mostly futile phone calls, e-mails and texts to try and secure some information.

And if we're going to rehash this, I guess in retrospect it didn't help that the story was allowed to fester as it did. For a good part of Black Friday, we thought Tiger was in serious condition in a hospital. Turns out he had a minor accident which was only minor in terms of what it did to him physically.

It ended up being the metaphorical starting point to the entire tale of Tiger's fall from grace. And while this was never going to be a story that could be spun, you think back and wonder how things might have been different for him if, in the first days and weeks, the flow of information had been handled differently.

It's pretty amazing that with so many media outlets -- everything from old-school bastions of journalism to the TMZ-type tabloids -- pursuing the story, it's one year later and we still don't know the exact events of that night. Everyone has heard the rumors and formed their own opinions, but there's a very good chance that the details will never be released.

Tiger might contend, "It's all in the police report," but that's untrue. Only he and his former wife Elin know exactly what took place. And quite honestly, I'm fine with that. It's their personal business. But that's just my opinion -- there have been so many gray areas to this story in regard to what is news and what isn't. I know some college journalism classes have had some great discussions about it.

What happened that night only matters from the standpoint that it is possible Tiger was under the influence. That's a police matter, one that quite obviously was not handled properly, and will always lead to conjecture.

As for what happened between Tiger and Elin … you're right, we'll be probably never know. It is their business and only a morbidly curious society cares. For our purposes, however, it did trigger one of the biggest stories our sport has ever seen, leading to all manner of revelations, a lot of which, quite frankly, have never been confirmed. The fact Tiger admitted to indiscretions and took a leave of absence is ultimately what you could not ignore.

It was perfect storm of scandals. I mean, you could have taken John Doe -- a no-name to the public -- told the story of how an accident in front of his home somehow led to the revelation of numerous marital infidelities and it would have served as juicy tabloid fodder.

But when that man is the world's most recognizable athlete and one who was never rumored to have veered from the straight and narrow in his personal life, well, it became more than a tabloid story and more than a sports story. It was like the two worlds colliding inside the pearly gates of Isleworth, with more mystery, intrigue and innuendo than an entire season of "CSI."

The long break from the game was followed by what seemed like a rush to get ready. Remember all the speculation about where he would return. Torrey Pines? Match Play? Doral? Bay Hill?

Looking back now, his performance at the Masters was both remarkable and misleading. I was among many who figured that getting inside the ropes would be the best thing for Tiger. After a six-victory season in 2009, he'd return to his winning ways in time. The tie for fourth at Augusta seemed to indicate it was a matter of time. And it wasn't. As we have learned, the aftermath of the scandal took a mental toll and his golf swing wasn't quite right to begin with. You add it all up and he had his first winless year as a pro.

There was no way of predicting everything that happened. I was more wrong than anyone. Once he took an indefinite leave of absence from competition early this year, I thought we wouldn't see him on the course at all in 2010. When he played well at Augusta, I contested he was "back" -- a sentiment I proclaimed once again after the third round of the U.S. Open and one which I had to bite my tongue about after flashes of brilliance at The Barclays, Ryder Cup and Australian Masters.

The fact is, this is a marathon and not a sprint and Tiger's return to prominence is going to be a gradual one. There's no doubt that, as you say, the scandal had an effect on him mentally, but when you add in constant alterations to his swing and an oft-balky putter, it all equates to a very un-Tiger-like year.

And it could be that this will remain a work in progress. Although he says he is adapting to swing coach Sean Foley's teachings quicker than he expected, we all know how these things can go. Typically you take a few steps back before moving forward, and Tiger has yet to put it together for any significant stretch.

That doesn't mean he won't. And that is what will be fascinating about 2011.