NEW YORK // More than 80 days after Tiger Woods's reputation was sunk by a car crash that sparked a rush of tawdry revelations, the golfer's first public appearance since that incident was a 13-minute apology yesterday in front of friends, family and cameras broadcasting it to millions of people worldwide.
In a statement, Woods did not rule out a return to competitive golf later this year. He spoke in Florida before a group of about 40 people, including his mother and associates, but not his wife, Elin. No questions were allowed during the tightly controlled event. Woods's statement was televised live and watched by millions of people around the world. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange slowed during his appearance.
Woods admitted to adulterous affairs and praised Elin for her "poise and grace". He denied reports of domestic violence and the taking of performance-enhancing drugs, and said he would return to in-patient therapy today. He apologised several times while looking directly into the camera for what he called his "selfish and irresponsible behaviour". "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable," said Woods.
He also spoke about how he had drifted away from his childhood practice of Buddhism and allowed fame and wealth to leave him with a false sense of "entitlement". He apologised to parents for disappointing children who had looked up to him as a role model. "I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to," he said. "I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I have done the things I did."
When Woods finished his statement, he hugged his mother, Kultida, and a few people who were sitting beside her, before leaving the room at the headquarters of the US PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach. Woods said it would take a long time to be fully rehabilitated, and it remained unclear if and when former corporate sponsors such as Accenture and AT&T would feel comfortable trusting him again with their public image.
But many fans of the 34-year-old star hope he will return to fulfil his role as the number one player in the world. "I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be," he said. "I don't rule out that it will be this year." Woods had not appeared in public since November 27 when a traffic accident outside his Florida home triggered reports of marital difficulties and a rush of revelations from numerous women about his private life. Several corporate sponsors then dropped him as he took time out from golf to attend to his family.
He did not explain what caused the car accident in the middle of the night and defended his wife. "Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence," he said. At the end of his statement Woods asked his family, friends and fans to "believe in me again". Analysts said one measure of Woods's full return to public life would be if his remaining sponsors, such as Nike or Gillette, were to resume advertisements featuring him. But that would not happen until after he returned to competitive sport, they said.
His public appearance spurred a flood of instant television analysis from psychologists and public relations experts, who seemed to agree that Woods had taken a first step on the long road to full public forgiveness. But there was criticism, too, of Woods taking almost three months to apologise publicly and for not taking questions directly from the press. The Golf Writers Association of America voted not to cover Woods's statement. "I cannot stress how strongly our board felt that this should be open to all media and also for the opportunity to question Woods," said Vartan Kupelian, the president of the 950-member group.
"The position, simply put, is all or none. This is a major story of international scope. To limit the ability of journalists to attend, listen, see and question Woods goes against the grain of everything we believe." Woods was also attacked for the timing of his statement, which was made during the WGC-Accenture Match Play tournament. "It's selfish," fellow professional Ernie Els told Golf Week magazine. "I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament."