An emotional Tiger Woods apologised for his “irresponsible and selfish behavior” Friday as the golf superstar broke his silence on the sex scandal that engulfed him last year.
In a brutally honest self-assessment broadcast live around the world, the 34-year-old admitted to a string of infidelities and confirmed he had been undergoing treatment in a rehabilitation centre for 45 days.
However, after repeatedly apologising to family, friends and fans during his 13-minute address, Woods did not confirm when he would return to golf, saying only that it would be “one day,” possibly this year.
“I want to say to each of you simply and directly: I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in,” Woods told a hand-picked audience of friends and journalists at the USPGA Tour Headquarters in Florida.
“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame,” a somber Woods said.
“For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for.”
Woods’s squeaky-clean image was left in tatters last year after a mysterious late-night car crash outside his home in Florida was followed by a string of lurid revelations about his personal life.
More than a dozen women were linked to the billionaire sports star in the weeks following the car crash. Woods later admitted “transgressions” but had not been seen or spoken in public until this week.
Apology leads to market dip
On Friday he emerged before a spellbound nation for the biggest televised mea culpa since president Bill Clinton admitted an “inappropriate” relationship with Monica Lewinsky in 1998.
Friday’s apology even affected financial markets as Wall Street dealers halted trading to watch television screens.
“It’s hard to admit that I need help, but I do,” Woods said. “For 45 days from the end of December to early February I was in in-patient therapy receiving guidance for the issues I’m facing,” Woods said. “I have a long way to go. But I’ve taken my first steps in the right direction.”
Woods said that during a sporting career which had seen him elevated to iconic status, and on course to become the most successful golfer in history, he had begun to feel a sense of entitlement.
“I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.
“I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.
“Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have far – I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong, I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”
Woods used the occasion to scotch reports that his wife Elin physically attacked him during the incident on November 27 which triggered the scandal.
“Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night,” Woods said. “It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. Elin never hit me that night or any other night.
“There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal.”
No date set for return
Woods also kept fans guessing about when he may return to the sport following his self-imposed exile.
“I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don’t know when that day will be,” Woods said. “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.”
Woods said he had begun to re-embrace Buddhism to help his rehabilitation, saying he had been schooled in the faith as a youngster by his Thai mother.
“Obviously I lost track of what I was taught,” Woods said.
Immediately after the statement, Woods stepped from the podium to embrace his mother, Kultida, who was sitting in the front row throughout.
“You know what? I’m so proud to be his mother. Period,” she told journalists later. “I am upset the way media treated him like he’s a criminal – he didn’t kill anybody, he didn’t do anything illegal.”
Reaction to Woods’s comments was mixed, with some pundits applauding as others dismissed it as a cynical exercise in media manipulation.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos described Woods’s words as “one of the most remarkable public apologies ever by a public figure.”
“He left nothing on the table. “This is a man who has thought a lot about what he did,” Stephanopoulos said.
But Rick Cerone, former chief of public relations for the New York Yankees, took an opposite view. “What I saw was arrogance,” he told CNN. “It was basically an infomercial.”
Woods is the world’s first billion-dollar athlete, and sponsors past, present and future were likely watching the apology closely.
“It was good to see Tiger address the public today, and we’re supportive of his focus toward family and rebuilding his life,” Peter Moore, president of EA Sports which remains committed to releasing a Tiger Woods golf game later this year, said in a statement.
“He remains one of the greatest athletes in history, and as a long-standing partner, we look forward to seeing Tiger back on the golf course when the time is right for him and his family.”