Tiger apologizes, unsure of return

Tiger Woods during his statement at the Sawgrass Players Club, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Tiger Woods during his statement at the Sawgrass Players Club, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Somber, composed – and vulnerable – Tiger Woods faced the world and said the words out loud.

“I cheated.”

“I am deeply sorry.”

“I understand people have questions.”

What Woods did not do Friday was answer a couple of the biggest: What really happened? When will he play golf again?

Missing his smile and aura of invincibility, Woods made another apology for cheating on his wife – this time a televised one – without revealing the scope of his infidelity or his future on the PGA Tour.

Woods spoke in a hushed room at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse filled with his closest associates. He stumbled a few times as he read a 13-minute statement in which he acknowledged he’s been in therapy following a string of affairs.

“I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did,” Woods said.

Woods’ wife, Elin, did not attend his first public appearance since he crashed his car into a tree outside their home three months ago, setting off shocking allegations of rampant extramarital relationships.

“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated,” Woods said. “What I did was not acceptable.”

Woods alternately looked into the camera and at the 40 people in the room, raising his voice only to deny that his wife ever hit him and to demand that the paparazzi leave his family alone. Beyond that, there were stretches when Woods – with his formidable business empire – could have been reading from a tough corporate report.

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He entered the room alone. When he finished, he stopped for a long embrace with his mother, Kultida, who said she whispered in his ear, “I’m so proud of you. Never think you stand alone. Mom will always be there for you, and I love you.”

Regaining trust and support from everyone else might not be so easy.

Woods already has lost two corporate endorsements – Accenture and AT&T – and he has gone from being perhaps the most famous athlete in the world to a punch line in night clubs and on talk shows.

“It’s now up to me to make amends, and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I’ve made,” Woods said. “It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.”

Woods left therapy on Feb. 11 and has been spending time with his two children and his mother – but not his wife – in Orlando, according to a person with knowledge of Woods’ schedule. The person, not authorized to release such information, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Woods did not say how much longer he would be in therapy, only that “I have a long way to go.”

Pool photos were released Thursday of Woods hitting golf balls on the practice range.

“I do plan to return to golf one day,” Woods said. “I just don’t know when that day will be. I don’t rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”

Just as unpredictable is the future of his marriage. Woods said he and his wife have started discussing the damage he has done. “What we say to each other will remain between the two of us,” he said.

Elin’s father, Thomas Nordegren, saw Woods’ confession but wouldn’t comment and her mother, Barbro Holmberg, declined to say whether she watched at all.

After an embrace with his mother, Woods hugged the two women who sat on either side of her – Amy Reynolds, formerly of Nike who now works for Tiger Woods Design, and Kathy Battaglia, who is Woods’ administrative assistant at ETW Corp.

He made his way down the front row and greeted others – his chief financial officer, Web site administrator, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Notah Begay, who played with Woods at Stanford and withdrew from the PGA Tour event in Mexico.

Begay said Woods had a long, tough recovery ahead of him – not only at home, but before thousands of fans behind the ropes.

“It’s a little bit harder than making a swing change,” Begay said.

Woods remained composed throughout the statement, pausing briefly before the first of several apologies. At times, however, he looked into the camera almost on cue.

The only employee not on the front row was Bryon Bell, his friend from junior high who now is president of his design company. Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent at IMG, sat in the last of three rows with 14 PGA Tour executives.

“He’s an American hero. And he’s had his issues,” Finchem said. “My personal reaction was that his comments were heartfelt. He clearly recognizes that there has been serious impact to a wide range of individuals and organizations.”

photo

Tiger Woods during Friday's statement.

Some of the eight players at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona watched the coverage before the third round.

“From a guy that’s done a lot of tough things in golf over the years, it was probably one of the most difficult things he’s ever had to do,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. “And it was something probably that’s going to help him along the way of healing.”

Only a few journalists were allowed to watch Woods live, but the confession became a major TV moment. All the networks broke in to show it – an implicit comment on Woods’ importance in popular culture. Television ratings double when he is in contention, which has happened a lot on his way to winning 71 times on the PGA Tour and 14 majors, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus watched the announcement, but a spokesman said he would have no comment.

Most of the associates left the room when Woods finished speaking. Among those who stayed were Mrs. Woods, who rarely gives interview but in this case said, “I would like to talk.”

She said her son has a “good heart and good soul” but made a mistake. Mrs. Woods, raised in Thailand, also claims the media showed a “double standard” by keeping the sex scandal in the news for so long.

“Some of media, especially tabloid, hurt my son bad,” Mrs. Woods said. “He didn’t do anything illegal. He didn’t kill anybody. But he try to improve himself. He try to go to therapy and help. He change that and making better. When he go do all this thing, he will come out stronger and a better person.”

As his Thai-born mother sat with arms folded across her chest, Woods said part of his rehab would include a return to his Buddhist faith. Woods said his mother raised him as a Buddhist, and he practiced his faith “until I drifted away from it in recent years.”

The companies that have stuck most closely by Woods, Nike Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc., reiterated their support. Said EA Sports president Peter Moore: “It was good to see Tiger address the public today, and we’re supportive of his focus toward family and rebuilding his life.”

• • •

AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Marana, Ariz., Associated Press writers Antonio Gonzalez in Ponte Vedra Beach, John Rogers in Los Angeles, and AP Retail Writers Ashley Heher in Chicago and Sarah Skidmore in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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