PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Missing his smile and aura of invincibility, Tiger Woods finally showed his face to a waiting world Friday and apologized again for cheating on his wife, without revealing the scope of his infidelity or when he will return to golf.
Standing at a podium before a presidential-blue backdrop in a hushed room of his closest associates, Woods stumbled a few times as he read a 13½-minute statement. He offered no new details of what happened or what’s next, except that he was leaving Saturday for more therapy.
“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 affairs.
“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.
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 as 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 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.
“As Elin pointed out to me, my apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come from my behavior over time,” Woods said. “We have a lot to discuss. However, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us.”
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. Begay said he got choked up listening, and felt his words were sincere.
“This is as emotional as I’ve ever seen him in public,” Begay said.
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 on the last of three rows with 14 PGA Tour executives.
“He’s an American hero. And he’s had his issues,” Finchem said. “At the end of the day, he’s a human being. We all make mistakes. 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.”
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.”
In Sweden, Elin’s father, Thomas Nordegren, saw Woods’ confession.
“I watched it but I have nothing to say right now,” Nordegren told The Associated Press. Elin’s mother, Barbro Holmberg, declined to comment through her spokeswoman.
Friday’s event was tightly controlled, with only a few journalists allowed to watch Woods live. The confession became a major television event with the networks breaking in to show it.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called the speech “one of the most remarkable public apologies ever by a public figure.”
Said golf analyst David Feherty on CBS: “The vast number of people just want their Tiger Woods back.”
Certainly, no other PGA Tour player could command this kind of attention.
But Woods has always been special on the course and 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.”
“Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security,” Woods said. “It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.”