At first, it was just a fling with a famous man who said his marriage was falling apart. But by the time she finally broke off her affair with Tiger Woods, Cori Rist said she had come to feel remorse for the suffering she caused Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren.
“I’m sorry for her pain. I hate that I’m a part of it,” the 31-year-old Rist told TODAY Monday. “I had no idea it would be like this. I can only imagine the pain she’s feeling now, and I’m sorry.”
‘Tiger would like to meet you’
Sorrow wasn’t on the menu in June 2006, when Rist happened to be at the same New York nightclub as Woods. The former model, who says she’s now a stay-at-home single mom for her 7-year-old son, said a member of Woods’ party came up to her in the club.
“A guy just approached me and said, ‘Tiger Woods would like to meet you, and would you like to join us for a drink?’ At the time there was nowhere else to sit, so we went over. He immediately told me a joke, broke the ice. It was very comfortable. He was funny, polite, and that just started the evening.”
The party then moved on to a private house, and Rist said she moved along with it. For the next six months, she said, she and Woods had regular trysts in New York, sometimes at private residences, sometimes at hotels.
“It was a long-distance relationship,” Rist told TODAY’s Natalie Morales. “Sometimes once a month, sometimes twice, sometimes not at all.”
Rist said she decided to end it when she saw a picture of Woods, his wife, Elin, and their new daughter, Sam, and realized what she was doing.
“We were pretty much involved in a relationship, and then I decided that I didn’t want to be part of it anymore, and I broke things off with him six months later after I met him,” Rist said. But Woods wouldn’t be deterred: “He kept pursuing me for the next two and a half years, and we saw each other, but less often. During the first six months, I’d see him twice a month.”
‘I made a mistake’
Rist said when she first met Woods, she knew he was married, but believed him when he said the marriage was on the rocks.
“I understood that things were very difficult at home, not what we thought they were on TV,” she said. “According to him, things were rough and they were going to separate. He said, ‘We’re on the outs,’ but she was pregnant, and they had to get through that.”
Rist denied published reports in The New York Daily News that she was a high-priced escort at the time, and said that she never received money from Woods. Rist said she was going public to set the record straight.
“I felt it was necessary to defend myself because I’m hearing negative reports; they’re not true,” Rist told TODAY. “I’m not an escort, he has not paid me, I’m a mother. At the end of the day, I made a mistake, but I’m not what they’re claiming that I am. So I will defend myself because I have no other choice.”
She broke down when she told Morales how the published reports about her have affected her son and her family. She brushed away tears as she said her son has had to hear “horrible things” about his mother.
“He has to suffer a lot of consequences from this,” Rist told Morales. “I’ve had to explain to him the mistakes I’ve made. It’s been tough — on my family as well.”
Rist brings the total number of women linked to the world’s most famous golfer to more than a dozen. TODAY asked Rist how Woods managed to keep his affairs secret for so long in a tabloid-driven media environment.
“He was good. He had people doing things for him,” she said. “A lot of people would book his itineraries for myself, he’d get me a second room, we’d have a conjoined door and that was it. It was under an alias name ... He would just tell me, ‘This is your room number, it’s under this name.’ I’d go to my room, he’d open the middle door, and we’d have two rooms.”
In a separate interview with Matt Lauer, Gerald Posner, chief investigative reporter for the Web site The Daily Beast, said that Woods kept his affairs secret even from his business manager, Mark Steinberg, and other advisers. Instead, he said, some old personal friends of Woods managed that part of his life. They bought tickets for Woods’ women, assigned them aliases, reserved the hotel rooms.
“There was a handful of old-time personal friends of Tiger who ran the extramarital affairs for him,” Posner told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “On the other hand were the business advisers; Mark Steinberg, his agent, who are really in many ways furious because they got caught flat-footed, and especially shocked at the trail of reckless evidence. They’re shocked also at the number of affairs.”
Whenever there was the threat of a leak, Posner said, Woods turned to a Hollywood law firm that specialized in taking on the tabloids. Posner said that two years ago, a tabloid got hold of grainy pictures that purportedly showed Woods with a woman in his Escalade. The law firm successfully quashed the story, he said.
But when club hostess Rachel Uchitel was linked to Woods in the taboid National Enquirer, Woods’ carefully crafted image and seemingly perfect life started unraveling, beginning with last month’s infamous low-speed crash in his Escalade in front of his house. After stonewalling the media, the 33-year-old Woods was ultimately forced to admit his infidelity and to take an indefinite leave of absence from golf.
While his biggest sponsor, Nike, has stood by him, Woods’ annual take of $100 million in endorsement income has already taken a hit. Pepsi was set to cut back on his personal Gatorade brand before the scandal broke. Then Accenture dropped him as a corporate spokesman, and Gillette announced that it was backing off its relationship with him.
Posner said that Woods has offered Uchitel $5 million paid over several years to maintain her silence. That is also the amount he reportedly offered his wife in an attempt to keep his marriage together. Woods and Nordegren have two children: daughter Sam, 2, and son Charlie, 10 months.
Rist said that she always suspected that Woods had other women besides herself.
“I would wake up sometimes in the night in hotels with him and hear him text messaging,” she said. “I’d lay there and realized he would be having a conversation, so I suspected there were others.”
But she never suspected how many others there were.
“I don’t know how he had the time to have so many women in his life,” Rist said.