KOMPAS.com - Perhaps he didn't notice the SUV parked across the road. If he did, he wasn't troubled by its blacked-out windows or any nagging hint of familiarity about its presence. In fact, if Tiger Woods thought so much as twice about what he was doing, then Mindy Lawton had no inkling of it as they enjoyed a secret assignation in Tiger's Cadillac Escalade 4x4 in a church car park soon after daybreak during a Florida spring.
But every move of that alfresco encounter was recorded by a surveillance team of reporters and photographers from one of America's biggest-selling tabloid magazines. It was a scoop - the first example of what we now know to be a pattern of infidelity on Tiger's part.
And it was two years ago - two years before the 'outing' of nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel and the bizarre late-night car crash outside Tiger's Florida home that set in motion a chain of revelations. Yet during those intervening years, Tiger had seemed what Tiger always seemed - a family man: the ultimate professional, controlled, focused, even a bit dull - because this was a sting that, were it not for last week's ructions, would never have seen the light of day.
Tiger's management made sure of that. Today, for the first time, The Mail on Sunday can tell the story of the affair that preceded that car park encounter in 2007 and the desperate cover-up that ensued.
It is a story that goes a long way to answering two of the most persistent questions in the whole Tiger Woods scandal: why did a man whose massive earnings depended on him being the ultimate clean-living sportsman jeopardise everything, from career to family, with such apparent recklessness? And how did he get away with it for so long?
Today, Mindy Lawton, 34, knows that she was just one of many mistresses taken by the golfer. But, according to her family, throughout their 14-month affair she laboured under the delusion that what she had with Tiger was special and that they were in love.
Mindy's sister, Orlando primary school teacher Lynn Lawton, said: 'She is extremely, extremely naive, my sister. She is single, never married, never had children and still looking for a relationship. I have to hand it to him. It was brilliant to choose my sister to play his kind of game.'
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The unworldly Mindy was easily dazzled and undemanding. She and Tiger met in summer 2006, when Mindy was working as an $8-an-hour manager and waitress at Perkins, a diner only a short drive from Tiger's home in the upmarket Orlando suburb of Windermere. Tiger and his wife Elin would regularly take breakfast there.
Lynn recalled: 'My sister told me they came in regularly. Elin would read the paper while Tiger ogled my sister. She is very bubbly, very outgoing. You couldn't help but notice her, even when she was in her waitress uniform.
'Mindy said he and Elin seemed disconnected. There would not be much conversation. Tiger would just sit there, looking at Mindy. She said, "Oh my God, he is so cute!"
'She doesn't know much about golf, but she did know he was married because Elin was sitting there.'
One day, Lynn said, Mindy called in a state of excitement: 'She said he had called her at Perkins and said, "This is Tige," - that's the pet name he always used for himself - "Will you meet me at the Blue Martini?"
'She was very excited but nervous so she asked our next oldest sister, Bobbi, to go with her. She was like, "Oh, I'm going to hang out with Tiger!"'
It is now known that this nightclub and cocktail bar was a favourite haunt of Tiger's - a place where he could entertain, and be entertained, in the relative privacy of the club's VIP section, surrounded by girls, minders and selected male friends.
Again, it is striking how relatively little effort he seemed to make to conceal these clandestine meetings. But, as Mindy was to find out, Tiger's powerful entourage and management were masters in protecting their money-maker's image.
At first, according to Lynn, the bouncer wouldn't let Mindy and her sister into the VIP room. 'They stood there for a while and then all of a sudden, Tiger nods to the guy to let them in. Tiger didn't get up. He just sat there.
'He was with a group of Orlando and Los Angeles basketball players. Bobbi bought him a drink and had one of the bartenders take it over. She said Mindy started dancing with another girl. My sister is a real good dancer and Bobbi said Tiger couldn't keep his eyes off her.'
Tiger and Mindy left the club separately. Mindy drove her sister home then met Tiger on his way to his house. She followed the golfer, driving at a discreet distance, and at the gated development was waved in by the guard.
Lynn said: 'Mindy told me the next day, "We went to his house and had sex. He was extremely good."'
Lynn thinks Elin was out of the country that night. She said: 'That was always the pattern. Mindy would drive her old Saturn car and follow Tiger in his luxurious Escalade.
'My sister was just a little girl on an hourly wage at Perkins. We knew what he wanted her for. But she wouldn't believe it.
'Maybe Tiger thought the security guards would think she was his cleaning lady,' Lynn conjectured. Or maybe they had just seen it all before and knew to turn a blind eye.
Truth be told, however charming and cool Tiger appeared as he sat over his breakfast, there was a different side to him, one only now emerging, which his young wife Elin must surely have been aware of.
As early as 2001, there had been hints of a wilder side to the sportsman when he went on holiday with a group of friends, reputedly calling themselves The Brothers and consisting of basketball players Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and former professional footballer, Ahmad Rashad.
Together with baseball's most expensive player Alex Rodriguez, they travelled to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Jordan gambled, placing up to $5,000 on a single card. Tiger showed his rebellious side, bleaching his hair blond. But that was before he met Elin, before they married in 2004 and before their children, daughter Sam Alexis, now two, and ten-month-old son Charlie, were born.
Once the affair between Tiger and Mindy started, it gathered momentum, with the couple meeting at his house for sex every two or three weeks. Incredibly, he continued to have breakfast at Perkins to the point where, Lynn said: 'Everyone was talking about it because he would wait for Mindy in his Escalade and then she would follow him in her car. He was so brazen it was incredible.
'Everyone in our family knew about it too. I remember one day we were all sitting on our back porch, my parents, my husband and Mindy, and we said, "Do you know he is married?" And she started crying and said yes.
'My husband told her, "The way he is behaving with you, behind his wife's back, I am sure he has a lady in every city."
'It got to the point where our neighbours and friends knew about it too. In a way it was quite clever, him being so open about it because we thought, "Maybe this is just how celebrities behave."
'I am sure Elin knew nothing about it, because she was never home when Mindy was there. But because Tiger was so complacent about it, it never would have occurred to anyone to tell her what was going on. He never said to my sister, "This has to be secret."'
Meanwhile, on the golfing circuit, Tiger's brilliance and sheer earning power meant that he never had to explain himself, or his behaviour, to anybody. However many rumours may have circulated, however uncouth some of his habits - such as spitting and swearing on the greens, and being churlish to caddies - his talent provided all the excuse, or shield he needed.
Tiger was so focused, nobody dared disturb him. At the major championships in Britain, he tended to rent houses rather than join other players at hotels, under the guise of maintaining his privacy. He allowed no visitors and, in recent years, his wife was, at best, an infrequent member of his tournament entourage.
On the course, he stared straight ahead, interacting with no one, except maybe his caddie. He demanded utter loyalty of his friends and the proximity of his management. He never divulged anything about himself and for years it was believed that, far from having something to hide, the former child-prodigy was frankly a little bit dull.
He said nothing, people thought, because he had nothing to say. It was as if he had picked up a golf club at the age of three and - save for the aberration that was his marriage - never showed any interest in picking anything, or anyone else up since.
This was the seemingly impervious image that won him deals with big names such as Nike, Gillette and Pepsi - endorsements that, should he be able to maintain them, could see his fortune increase six-fold to £3billion in the next ten years.
But Mindy - and the others - saw a very different Tiger. Lynn said: 'I saw the texts he sent her. One of them said he was dreaming of being inside of her. Another said, "Do you want to get laid?" It was crude. There was no mention of love. She said he didn't talk about his wife.'
Had Tiger mentioned Elin, it might have meant confronting the sordid reality that his 'romance' with Mindy was conducted while his wife was pregnant with their first child.
Instead, Lynn said: 'He talked very little about anything. She said he never wore condoms. That really broke me up. I was so worried she might catch a disease, especially as we suspected he was promiscuous. But Mindy was in love with him. I think she thought he was faithful to her.'
In fact, it seems likely that Tiger's affair with Mindy overlapped with his relationship with Jaimee Grubbs, the 24-year-old cocktail mistress he met in April 2007 and with whom he had a three-year affair. According to a source close to Jaimee, she very much enjoyed her affair with Tiger - perhaps having less romantic notions than Mindy.
Jaimee simply accepted that theirs was 'a physical, not a cerebral relationship'. She has said: 'Tiger might have started out naive, but sex became like an addiction to him.'
Jaimee has also claimed that the star took the painkiller Vicoden - a prescription he explained as necessary because of a recent knee injury.
Rachel Uchitel, the New York club hostess whose 'outing' as one of Tiger's mistresses supposedly led to last Saturday's marital meltdown, allegedly told one friend that Tiger took Ambien - a sedative prescribed for his insomnia but said to heighten sexual experiences.
Porn star Holly Sampson and marketing director Kalika Moquin, 33, both named as mistresses, do nothing to dispute these depictions of the man or his predilections.
Another as yet unnamed mistress believes: 'His big problem is, ironically, insecurity. He has never felt particularly attractive. From the age of four or five, he was destined to be a golfing legend but no one told him how to be a man.
'He married the dream girl, had the perfect family, but couldn't feel satisfied with that.
'He's not a happy man. When his father died [in May 2006] his moral compass went off. He was caught once and got away with it. He thought he could get away with it for ever.'
Which brings us back to that car park, that surveillance team in the spring of 2007 and the scoop that could have exploded Tiger's myth long before now. So what happened?
Put bluntly, Tiger sold himself to save himself - or at least his management did. With an exertion of power only possible by the very rich and very famous, a deal was struck.
In return for burying the story of Tiger's affair, he would give an exclusive cover interview to a men's health magazine owned by the same company as the tabloid.
According to our investigation, when 'Team Tiger' discovered that the tabloid magazine not only had blurry pictures of him and Mindy in the car park but evidence of the consummation, they went into a panic. Then they went to work.
Neal Boulton, an editor in the tabloid magazine's company at the time, revealed: 'They said, "What do we have to do not to let this get out?"'
The answer was press the magazine's publisher to withhold the story in return for Tiger appearing on the August 2007 cover of its stablemate publication, Men's Fitness. And so Tiger, who regularly declines interviews on the grounds that he is a 'private' person, struck beefcake-style poses and gave tips on diet, exercise and weightlifting.
The tabloid's parent company insisted that the exclusive was not a quid pro quo. But it was enough for Boulton to resign in protest at the editorial interference which he perceived as an underhand 'trade-off'. Ironically, had Mindy voiced her own concerns some weeks earlier, Tiger and his team might have avoided everything which followed.
According to Lynn, her sister had told her of 'a strange car following her at night'. Around the same time, Lynn herself received a call from a reporter at the tabloid. But then nothing came of it – or so the Lawton family thought. And as far as Mindy knew, Tiger simply dropped out of her life.
Lynn said: 'You'd have thought with all his money, he would have paid her off and all the other girls but I guess he thought he had them in the palm of his hand. He treated my sister like a piece of meat.'
Tiger ended his affair with Mindy as soon as his management informed him of the tabloid sting. He just stopped calling. For her, there was no explanation, for him there was no story - and that was what mattered.
In the final analysis, it was perhaps too much for Tiger's management to hope that all his 'Mindys' would go away. And, crucially, cracks were beginning to appear in the one thing upon which everything - his reputation and his shield - depended: Tiger's game.
At the Open at Turnberry in the summer, Tiger missed the halfway cut for only the second time in a major championship in his glittering career.
At the time, the golfing circuit was awash with rumours that he had returned to his rented house and taken out his frustrations on its interior, trashing the place to the tune of £6,000 to £16,000, depending on who one believes, though nothing was ever confirmed.
In recent months, talk of arguments with Elin and a recent ultimatum simply would not be silenced.
Perhaps when the Mindy problem went away, Tiger thought himself immune from exposure. He had been so blatant and emerged without a dent to his image. Perhaps he believed that his image was so artfully constructed that the truth just couldn't punch through it.
Perhaps he didn't think at all - a luxury afforded him by his wealth, his management and his power, and one which from here on in, he'll have to do without.
Has Tiger fled the Florida wreckage?
Tiger Woods was still in hiding last night, amid speculation that he may be living separately from his wife Elin, writes Sharon Churcher.
Unidentified 'friends' of the golfer have said the couple are having marriage counselling. But Woods's continued refusal to speak to police about his bizarre car crash has led to speculation that he quietly has moved out of their mansion in a gated Orlando community.
One source close to the investigation said last night: 'I'd be shocked if Tiger is still in Orlando. The rumour on the PGA circuit is that there was no Wedgwood china left in the house after their blow-up. No one has seen Tiger.
'One story is that he left his lair after the wreck and took a private jet to New York. Maybe he's decided to party some more.'
Woods's attorney Mark Nejame declined to comment when asked if the golfer had left town.Dapatkan update berita pilihan dan breaking news setiap hari dari Kompas.com. Mari bergabung di Grup Telegram "Kompas.com News Update", caranya klik link https://t.me/kompascomupdate, kemudian join. Anda harus install aplikasi Telegram terlebih dulu di ponsel.
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