A contrite Tiger Woods returned to the public eye and made a statement that was both personal and sweeping. He praised his wife, Elin, who was not present, and apologized to a worldwide audience, which witnessed the 13½-minute address Friday from the golfer who has been a global celebrity for the past 13½ years.
"I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior," he told a group of about 40 friends and associates in the clubhouse at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. In words also directed to his millions of followers, he said: "I know I have disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did. For all that I have done, I am sorry."
Woods did not say when he will return to golf, adding that he has not ruled out coming back this year. His only reference to a timetable occurred when he said he will return to therapy Saturday.
He did not specify his treatment, but it is widely assumed to be rehabilitation for sex addiction. His conduct had exploded into a full-blown scandal and kept Woods out of view since his SUV crashed into a fire hydrant and tree outside his Orlando, Fla., home Thanksgiving night.
"I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable and I am the only person to blame," he said, indicating that he and Elin "have started the process of discussing the damage." He noted his wife's "grace and poise," then paraphrased her: "My real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time."
Words, though, were his vehicle to everyone else Friday. Wearing a blue blazer and open-collared shirt in front of a blue curtain at a sparse podium, the 34-year-old was at times halting, dry-mouthed and defiant. He did not cry during the talk, although he did seem emotional afterward when he hugged his mother, Kultida, who was sitting in the front row near PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Notah Begay, Woods' former college teammate and fellow pro.
Explaining the unraveling of his seemingly perfect world, blessed with a wife who is a former model and two young children, Woods said: "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. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. I brought this shame on myself."
He promised to change. He said he has re-embraced his Buddhist faith. He vowed that his golf behavior, often marked by cursing after a poor shot, will be "more respectful of the game."
Woods criticized paparazzi for following his 2½-year-old daughter, Sam Alexis, to preschool and for pursuing Kultida.
"You know what? I'm so proud to be his mother. Period," she told a pool reporter from a wire service (the Golf Writers Association of America boycotted because the Woods camp limited access and prohibited questions). "This thing, it teaches him, just like golf."
Finchem said of the golfer who turned pro and scored his first victory in 1996: "He's an American hero and he's had these issues. But at the end of the day, he's a human being. We all have made mistakes."
The boldest golfer and world's most recognized athlete admitted he needs help. "I have a long way to go," he said. "But I've taken my first steps in the right direction."