The fate of Tiger Woods gripped the world last night when it emerged that its No 1 golfer had been admitted to hospital in what officials initially described as a "serious" condition following a late-night car crash outside his Florida home.
Police in Isleworth, the upmarket suburb of Orlando where Woods and his family live in a gated community, said his Cadillac sports utility vehicle first hit a fire hydrant and then a tree after pulling out of his front driveway shortly before 2.30am. Woods was treated in hospital for facial cuts then released a few hours later. "Basically it was facial lacerations," the town's mayor, Gary Bruhn, told the CNN news agency.
Late last night it emerged that Woods' wife, the Swedish former model Erin Nordegren, used a golf club to free him from the car by smashing in the back window. Windermere police chief Daniel Saylor said the golfer was drifting in and out of consciousness when officers arrived at the scene.
Rolling news networks and internet sites had earlier speculated wildly about Woods's condition, running reports that sounded dangerously like an obituary for the 33-year-old golfer, who has won an unprecedented 82 tournaments, including 14 majors.
The Florida highway patrol added to the sense of drama, saying in its first statement that Woods's condition was "serious" and that, although alcohol was not involved, possible charges against him were pending.
Later, it emerged that police protocol is to describe an accident as serious if the victim requires anything more than very minor medical attention. The word "pending" merely means that further action has neither been ruled in or out. Woods was going at less than 33mph when the accident occurred, investigators said, which perhaps explains why air bags in the vehicle did not deploy. There was no one else in the car, and for reasons that are so far unclear, police did not release details of the incident until 12 hours after it happened.
A joint statement from the golfer's publicist, Glenn Greenspan, and Health Central Hospital called the accident "minor" and said Woods was "admitted, treated and released today in good condition".
Although Woods spends most of the year on the road, he lives in Florida for tax purposes. His home, for which he paid $2.4m, is set on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. The neighbourhood is fortified and is home to other sports stars such as the NBA basketball player Shaquille O'Neal.
Woods' most recent public appearance was in California last weekend. He attended an American football game between his alma mater, Stanford University, and the University of California.
Given that the accident seems unlikely to affect Woods's career prospects, attention will inevitably turn to what, exactly, the squeaky-clean athlete was doing at 2.30 in the morning, leaving the home he shares with his wife and two children.
Rumours about the golfer's private life surfaced this week with a tabloid newspaper speculating about marital unrest, but it had little evidence to substantiate its outlandish claims.