- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NEW YORK | The hunt for Tiger Woods is on or at least the first photographs of the golf superstar since his late-night car crash and damaging news of his marital problems.

The winner of 14 majors has virtually disappeared since driving his SUV into a tree during a bizarre accident outside his Orlando, Fla.-area home last month. Wife Elin also has laid low, though photos of her surfaced this week, her hand showing no sign of a wedding ring.

Except for a few posts on his Web site, where Woods apologized for transgressions and said he was taking an indefinite leave from golf, the world’s best player has gone underground. And that, of course, has driven up the market value for his photographs.

He’s on top of the list, said famed paparazzo Ron Galella, who once had his jaw broken by Marlon Brando and is the subject of a documentary by Oscar-winning director Leon Gast that will premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

The only bigger one would be Brad Pitt with Jennifer Aniston, his former wife, if they ever got together, Galella said. Tiger is hot now.

The word paparazzi comes from a character in the film La Dolce Vita, although they often make life anything but sweet for athletes and celebrities.

Some of them go to lawbreaking lengths to get the exclusive shot, scaling walls, hanging out of trees and even chartering helicopters if it means getting a picture of something within a gated community - one like Isleworth, where Woods and his family have their home.

The value of the photographs depends on several factors, said Frank Griffin of the Bauer-Griffin Agency, including things like quality and setting. If the picture were of Woods crying or contrite, it would be more valuable than one of him smiling.

Timing is also an issue because many tabloids and celebrity magazines have maxed out their budgets for the year. A photograph that surfaces in a few weeks might generate more money.

The most expensive celebrity shots, according to a ranking by Forbes, were for the twins born to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The photos brought in about $14 million, although the couple allowed the photographer access in exchange for a donation to charity.

Today my guys in Orlando get [Tiger] in the backyard, his head down, I would say $10,000 apiece, said Francois Navarre, who runs the X-17 photo agency. Worldwide, I would probably make about $100,000. Now if we get him with his wife, you can double that or more.

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