As more women claim affairs with Tiger Woods, close friends tell People his wife, Elin, is devastated and angry—but determined to do whatever it takes to protect her family

By Alex Tresniowski Joey Bartolomeo
December 21, 2009 12:00 PM


Before she said yes to one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, Elin Nordegren had a couple of questions for Tiger Woods. She had heard some things about him—that he was not quite the altar boy his public image implied—so she sat him down and asked him point-blank about his intentions. “Elin had talked to other golfers and their wives about Tiger’s wild parties,” says one of her close friends. “When she asked Tiger about it, he said he would stop doing it. And she believed him. But he never did.”

Now that the Big Cat is out of the bag, and the infidelity scandal triggered by Woods’ Nov. 27 car crash just gets worse and worse, Elin must once again ask hard questions— this time to save her marriage. Several sources close to the couple tell PEOPLE the revelations about what Woods called his “transgressions” have profoundly shaken both Tiger and Elin, and completely upended their lives. For Elin, 29, the fallout has been particularly agonizing: Early on Dec. 8 her mother, Barbro, just off a plane from Sweden to be with her daughter, was rushed to a Florida hospital with stomach pain from Woods’ $2.4 million Windermere home. “She was exhausted and overly stressed,” says a source close to Elin. “She was treated with fluids.” On top of that, more women have come forward with claims they had affairs with Woods (see page 75), forcing the couple into deep discussions, though not yet counseling, about whether they can survive the crisis as a family. “Tiger has told Elin everything,” says a source inside Woods’ camp. “Nothing that’s coming out now is a surprise. She knows what he has done, and they’ve had some long talks about it. They are getting everything out in the open.”

Yet as details continue to emerge about Woods’ car crash—according to a Florida Highway Patrol report, officers were told he had been prescribed Ambien and Vicodin and found him “unresponsive” at the scene—the bigger mysteries now surround his wife, Elin: Just who is this secretive Swedish ex-nanny, and what will she do next? According to one source, the couple have been fighting for nearly two years and often had public arguments in Stockholm, where they own a condo. “Elin was a normal, sensible girl who has become crazy after being married to Tiger,” says the source. “They’ve been seen fighting and yelling in restaurants.”

Others who know Elin call her a strong-willed wife and mother to their two children, Sam, 2, and Charlie, 10. They say she adapted to her husband’s long absences and enjoyed her upscale life but nevertheless was blindsided by the scandal. “She is devastated by the extent of Tiger’s cheating, but she did not collapse on the bed like a vegetable,” says a source close to her. Says another lifelong friend: “Don’t let the pretty blonde thing fool you—she is tough. She doesn’t take anything lying down. She’s a fighter, and I am sure she’s fighting like hell right now, to keep her family intact but also to make sure Tiger will always be haunted by this.”

One of Woods’ friends says the sports world’s fiercest alpha dog has definitely been humbled by the scandal. Before reports of his affair with nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel broke, “Tiger thought he was untouchable,” says a friend. But now “he’s feeling real low; his charisma is shot and he’s embarrassed.” Not long after the crash, Elin closed a deal to buy a $2.3 million estate on a Swedish island. There have also been reports she was negotiating a new postnuptial that would guarantee her a small fortune in exchange for staying married for a few more years. But sources who know Woods and Elin deny that money would play any part in her staying with Woods. “She is a child of divorce, and that’s not something she’s likely going to want to do to Sam and Charlie,” says her close friend. “She really believes in the importance of parents staying together.”

Raised in Vaxholm, Sweden (she has an identical twin sister, Josefin, who lives in London), Elin was just 6 years old when her father, Thomas Nordegren, a leading Swedish journalist, and mother, Barbro Holmberg, a prominent government official, divorced. Elin enrolled at the prestigious Lund University to study child psychology, but after her freshman year she met Mia Parnevik—wife of Swedish golf pro Jesper Parnevik—and signed up to be a nanny for her children in Jupiter, Fla. One day in 2000, “we were watching Tiger on TV, and I casually asked Elin if she’d go out with him,” remembers PGA pro Fred Funk, 53, whose kids were playing with Parneviks children. “Elin perked up and said, ‘Sure.'”

Woods asked her out several times before she finally agreed. Like Elin, he was no stranger to broken families. His father, Earl, was divorced from his first wife and separated from Tiger’s mother, Tida, before he died in 2006. So why did Woods get married in 2004, at the age of 28? “He wanted kids,” says golf writer Alan Shipnuck, “and he had married friends who had kids, and I think that’s why he did it.”

Before long, Woods’ zealous pursuit of privacy rubbed off on his wife. “She became more reserved,” says Fred Funk’s wife, Sharon. Elin was well-liked among PGA wives but not overly friendly—much like Woods. “She keeps to herself and to the people in Tiger’s circle, and that’s how he likes it,” says one golf writer. Cameron Morfit, another golf scribe, says, “If Tiger is a man of few words, Elin is a woman of no words.”

Still, their life in Florida was outwardly sweet and ordinary, say neighbors. While Woods was away, Elin “was a wonderful, caring mother,” says one source. “She would always have the kids and dogs with her, driving somewhere.” “We’re kind of boring,” Woods said on his Web site this October. “A lot of evenings we’ll just rent a movie and stay at home.”

What happened on all the other evenings was, of course, the problem. One source who knows the couple—and says their marriage became “one of convenience”—believes Elin made a sort of trade-off, balancing the hassles of fame with the perks of a jet-set lifestyle. “She is very fond of the good life,” says the source. And while this source says Elin “honestly did not know Tiger was cheating on her,” others wonder if she knew and simply looked the other way.

Either way, things are different now. Someone inside Woods’ camp insists he is sincerely sorry and wants to save his marriage: “He’s not perfect, we all know that now. But he’s a good father, and he wants to be a good husband too.” Yet Woods’ superhuman drive can only take him so far this time; a lot will depend on what Elin wants to do. “If there was just one indiscretion, it might be easier for her to move on, but this is a whole new can of worms,” says Fred Funk. “But Elin is not some little wimp. Anything she does, she wants to win. And if she wants to fight to save this marriage, it could work.”