With eerily similar announcements to a combined Facebook and Twitter audience of nearly 6.5 million, Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn confirmed Monday that they are dating, then asked for privacy because they want to live, in Woods’s words, “as an ordinary couple.”
Good luck with that.
Woods and Vonn not only vault to the top of the list of sports couples in terms of lifetime professional achievements, but their relationship will also be a magnet for ceaseless news media attention just for its sizzle and startling inimitability.
Woods, 37, was a wunderkind golfer feted on national television at age 2 who became the world’s most celebrated athlete until his serial adultery was exposed, leading to a divorce and a spectacular fall from grace three years ago.
Vonn, 28, is a Minnesota-bred, suburban-sheltered ski racer who married her first serious boyfriend and led a tame, predictable personal life until she unexpectedly moved to divorce that first love 16 months ago.
They immediately stole the title of Golf’s First Couple from top-ranked Rory McIlroy and his tennis star girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki. There are, in fact, few suitable couple comparisons to offer as precedent on the athletic level. There have certainly been potent athletic marriages, like Chris Evert and Greg Norman, or Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. But it is rarer for two active athletes of such international acclaim to be romantically involved in or near their primes of their careers.
Between them, Woods and Vonn have 14 major golf championships, 76 PGA Tour victories, 2 Olympic medals and 4 overall World Cup titles. Woods may be the best golfer ever, something he still has a chance to prove unequivocally. Vonn may be the best female ski racer ever and could over the next few winters become the most decorated World Cup ski racer — male or female — in history. It is a match made for “SportsCenter.”
The best comparison might be Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
“This season has been great so far and I’m happy with my wins at Torrey and Doral,” Woods wrote on his Facebook page, referring to two of his recent PGA Tour victories. “Something nice that’s happened off the course was meeting Lindsey Vonn. Lindsey and I have been friends for some time, but over the last few months we have become very close and are now dating. We thank you for your support and for respecting our privacy. We want to continue our relationship, privately, as an ordinary couple and continue to compete as athletes.”
The post included four professionally composed pictures that were in the style of an engagement announcement or of high school prom portraits without the corsages. They look very normal — in a chance meeting sort of way. Except Woods and Vonn are two of the most renowned athletes in the world, traveling in contrasting, highly-scrutinized circles, who would not normally bump into one another.
“I guess it wasn’t a well-kept secret,” Vonn wrote on her Facebook page Monday. “But yes, I am dating Tiger Woods. Our relationship evolved from a friendship into something more over these past few months and it has made me very happy. I don’t plan on addressing this further as I would like to keep that part of my life between us, my family and close friends. Thank you for understanding and your continued support!”
That is a change of heart from 2010, when Vonn mocked Woods’s staged, televised apology about a sex addiction. She said she wanted to host “Saturday Night Live,” so she could perform a skit imitating Woods’s statement.
“There’s something you don’t know about me,” Vonn said, mimicking Woods’s earnest tone. “Tiger, you’re like my idol, and I too have a sex problem. That would be freaking funny.”
Asked in the same interview how she would deal with sports celebrity and the tabloids and Web sites that can threaten reputations, she said: “Well, I’m married, so I don’t have that problem. But, um, I guess he is married too. I mean, I guess if you have secrets, you have an issue. I’ve kind of been open about everything.”
This is also Woods’s first public relationship since his divorce from Elin Nordegren in 2010. Vonn’s divorce from the former Olympic ski racer Thomas Vonn, who also served as her manager and coach, was finalized earlier this year. She has been linked to a few other suitors in the past several months, including Tim Tebow. In each of those cases, Vonn went out of her way to deny that she was romantically involved with anyone.
When reports of a relationship with Woods surfaced in December, she deflected them, telling The Denver Post that she and Woods were friends because her brother, Reed, had been a ski instructor for Woods’s two children on a visit to Vail, Colo., where Vonn lives.
Vonn, who for years has been open when discussing her personal life, turned uncharacteristically evasive in succeeding months when pressed about a relationship with Woods. That intensified the attention on the Woods-Vonn connection. Various European media outlets, who have been chronicling Vonn’s every move for years, reported that when Vonn seriously injured her right knee during a race on Feb. 5 at the world championships in Austria, Woods sent his private jet to ferry her back to Colorado for surgery. Tabloid reports also had the two spending time together earlier this month in Florida.
Because Vonn’s knee has been reconstructed and requires months of recovery as she prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics, she is expected to be on crutches for another few weeks — something to which Woods, who had reconstructive surgery on his left knee in 2008, can relate. She also is supposed to be rehabilitating her knee with grueling twice-a-day, six-days-a-week sessions. That might be more difficult if she plans to hopscotch the country on the traveling circus that is the PGA Tour.
Now that the Augusta National Golf Club has admitted its first female members, perhaps Condoleezza Rice can clear space at the club — and in the spotlight — for Vonn during next month’s Masters tournament.
© 2013, The New York Times News Service