How Tiger Woods Bought Off The National EnquirerS

In one of the strangest twists of the Tiger Woods saga, it turns out that this whole public breakdown could have happened two years ago, if only Tiger hadn't cut a deal to squelch some "incriminating" photos back in 2007.

Tiger's current predicament began just before Thanksgiving when the National Enquirer first ran the story that he was stepping out with Rachel Uchitel. But according to a recent rumor, confirmed today by the Wall Street Journal, the Enquirer had photos of Tiger in a "liaison" with another woman all the way back in the summer of 2007. In August of that same year, Tiger gave an unusually in-depth profile that was featured on the cover of Men's Fitness, which is owned by American Media Inc.—the parent company of the Enquirer.

AMI officially denies it, but several employees told the Journal that Tiger struck a written deal with the company to kill the Enquirer story in exchange for the exclusive with Men's Fitness. Some might say that was bribery by the Woods camp. Other might call it blackmail by AMI. One source said the pictures were so bad, they would have proved nothing and the Enquirer probably wouldn't have been able to publish them anyway. But they were sufficiently scary that Woods was able to negotiate a deal to keep them quiet.

(Less surprising, but equally shady: Golf Digest spends nearly $1 million a year to basically keep Tiger on retainer, which is partly what made the Men's Fitness story so suspicious.)

That leads to the ultimate question. If Tiger knew over two years ago that the National Enquirer was on to his skirt-chasing ways, why didn't he clean up his act? Or at least do a better job of covering his tracks? He should have known that it would only be a matter of time before the Enquirer (or someone else) got even better photos that would be worth a whole lot more to them than a Men's Fitness cover story. Yet, he doesn't appear to have altered his behavior in any way. They pushed an iceberg into his path and he decided to turn the boat north and speed up.

How Tiger Woods Protected His Image [WSJ]

Other Tiger Tidbits:

• His streak of consecutive New York Post front page appearances remains alive at 20. Even the sensational tale of a robber gunning down three generations of one family in an Upper West Side heroin den (and then slipping on a fire escape and falling to his death) couldn't push him completely of the board. Well done.

• Phoenix is all a-flutter over rumors that Tiger is about to check into a local rehab center for sex addiction treatments. Hey, it's more interesting than the Coyotes.

• Tiger Woods once used a cell phone ... in front of his wife! The sheer hubris is mindboggling.

• Michael Phelps: He gets it.