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Years before his Florida DUI arrest, Tiger Woods made a surprise visit to a Sacramento courtroom

United States vice-captain Tiger Woods smiles during a practice round for the Ryder Cup golf tournament Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
United States vice-captain Tiger Woods smiles during a practice round for the Ryder Cup golf tournament Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. AP

Tiger Woods has a July 5 court date in Florida for his weekend arrest on charges of driving under the influence, but it won’t be the first time Woods has appeared in a courtroom.

The golfing legend made a surreptitious appearance in a Sacramento Superior Court more than 16 years ago that ranks among the oddest bits of history in the old downtown courthouse.

Woods, who at the time was 24 and had just been named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, testified for 50 minutes in an identity theft case.

Woods’ name had been appropriated by Anthony Lemar Taylor, a 29-year-old parolee who was accused of using Woods’ name to rent a U Haul truck on Stockton Boulevard, apply for credit at Beck’s Furniture, take out a Blockbuster video account in the golfer’s name at a Florin Road store and rack up $17,000 in a shopping spree at area merchants.

Taylor faced charges that he applied for credit at various spots using the golfer’s Social Security number and full legal name – Eldrick T. Woods.

Authorities weren’t taking any chances on pressing the case against Taylor, whose rap sheet dated back to 1988. So they arranged an elaborate and hush-hush plan for Woods to testify at trial in front of Judge Michael Virga.

At 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, 2000, Woods left his Florida home on a chartered jet and flew into Mather Field, where Sacramento sheriff’s deputies met his plane and escorted him to the downtown courthouse. Woods was taken into the underground garage and slipped into the back hallways of the third-floor courtroom to avoid onlookers.

A source tipped The Sacramento Bee about the plans for the surprise witness, and a Bee reporter made it inside the courtroom before a bailiff secured the doors and Woods walked in wearing a gray suit and black T-shirt.

No, Woods testified, he had not made the $100 down payment on a Lexus at a local dealership. No, he didn’t rent a U Haul on Stockton Boulevard. Yes, he said, he did have a Blockbuster card, but not from the Florin Road store.

And, no, he had not been on a shopping spree anytime recently in Sacramento, a city he said he had last visited as a 13-year-old when he won a junior golf tournament at Rancho Murieta.

“I hate shopping,” Woods testified. “I have never liked it. I don’t like picking out things. I’d rather go play (golf).”

Woods’ 50 minutes of testimony, during which he appeared relaxed and frequently flashed his famous smile, apparently did the trick. Taylor was convicted two weeks later on eight counts of felony theft and perjury, and in April 2001 was sentenced to a Three Strikes penalty of 200 years to life.

Court and sheriff’s officials made certain that the only photographic evidence of Woods’ appearance came from souvenir photos they took with him in private offices. A Bee photographer waiting outside the courtroom was not allowed inside to record Woods’ appearance.

After testifying, Woods was whisked out of the garage and back to Mather to return home to Florida.

His next court appearance in that state is not expected to be as relaxing. Woods faces a driving under the influence charge, although he has issued a statement saying no alcohol was involved and blaming “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”

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Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

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