Tiger Woods showed uncommon humility, and a familiar touch of defiance, in his long-awaited return to the public stage Friday. Now the next relevant question: When will he resume his high-visibility career as a professional golfer, the role that vaulted him to celebrity status?
Woods, speaking publicly for the first time since his one-vehicle accident Nov. 27 led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs, apologized repeatedly during his 13-minute statement. He spoke to a handpicked group of about 40 people at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., including his mother, Kultida, tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and onetime Stanford teammate Notah Begay.
Woods offered no specifics on his eventual return to golf. His comments left open the possibility he could miss a long stretch of the 2010 season – including the Masters, the year’s first major championship, set for April 8-11 in Augusta, Ga.
He has not played competitively since a tournament in Shanghai in early November. His last U.S. appearance came in the Presidents Cup at San Francisco’s Harding Park in October.
“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 it will be this year.”
Friday’s appearance marked his first foray into the spotlight since he became regular tabloid fodder. It was a full-fledged spectacle, with television networks rearranging their schedules, a helicopter buzzing overhead and millions of viewers interrupting their morning routines to watch.
Woods and his agent, Mark Steinberg, carefully staged the event, but a technical glitch didn’t help. CBS, the pool camera crew in the room, had its head-on camera knocked out by a power surge during the speech. The last few minutes were televised via a side angle, where viewers couldn’t see Woods’ face.
He said he spent 45 days in therapy receiving “guidance,” between late December and early February, and will return today for more treatment. That apparently explains why he spoke Friday, in conflict with a marquee PGA Tour event, the Match Play Championship in Arizona.
Woods seldom has appeared humble in the 13-plus years since he turned pro in late 1996, but he struck a different tone in apologizing for his “irresponsible and selfish” behavior. Woods read from a prepared statement, occasionally paused to gather himself and turned introspective at times, which was way out of character for him.
“I have made you question who I am and how I’ve done the things I did,” he said, staring directly into the camera. “I’m embarrassed to have put you in this position. For all I have done, I am so sorry. … My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.”
Reaction to Woods’ speech was mixed. HCD Research conducted a national media study in which 60 percent of the 1,090 Americans polled said they found him to be sincere, 31 percent indicated their perception of Woods had changed in a positive way, and 17 percent said it had changed in a negative way.
Nick Smith, a University of New Hampshire professor who wrote a book titled “I Was Wrong: The Meaning of Apologies,” called Woods’ statement one of the best public apologies on record, though he acknowledged having a healthy suspicion of such events.
“Tiger clearly accepted blame and understood this was more than a private matter because of all the people it influenced in various ways,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. “We should also recognize a truth that often conflicts with our media culture: Moral development does not occur with a news cycle. We cannot judge (apologies) fully in the moments they are spoken.”
Woods called suggestions that he used performance-enhancing drugs “completely and utterly false.” He reportedly received a “blood-spinning” treatment last year from Canadian doctor Tony Galea, who was arrested in October on suspicion of drug violations.
As for his marriage, Woods said he and his wife, Elin Nordegren, are still trying to sort through the damage. The couple has two small children, daughter Sam (who turns 3 in June) and son Charlie (who turned 1 last week). Nordegren was not in the audience Friday in Ponte Vedra.
Woods’ voice rose when he disputed widespread rumors that Elin smacked him in the face with a golf club, precipitating the Nov. 27 accident outside their Orlando-area home.
“Elin never hit me that night or any other night,” Woods said. “There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. She deserves praise, not blame.
“The issue here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. … I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself normal rules didn’t apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.
“I felt I was entitled. I was wrong and foolish. I brought this shame on myself.”
At one point, Woods expressed his anger and frustration with paparazzi for following his wife and children. He pleaded with the media to leave his family alone – though eight photographers apparently were camped out later Friday at his daughter’s day care center.
Woods later bemoaned drifting away from the teachings of Buddhism (the religion in which he was raised by his mother), which he said preached restraint and not following every impulse.
“Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids,” he said. “I owe those families a special apology. … There are many people in this room and many people at home who believed in me. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.”
Tiger vs. no Tiger
TV ratings and attendance on the PGA Tour plummet when Tiger Woods is not playing, as evidenced by the following statistics from the annual tournament held every January at San Diego’s Torrey Pines golf course.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle