Disgraced golfing great Tiger Woods left his self-imposed hibernation Friday to give a 15-minute, highly scripted apology for what he, for the first time, said were extramarital affairs.
“My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before,” Woods told a group of friends and supporters. “It is now up to me to make amends and that starts by never repeating the mistakes that I have made. It's up to me to start living a life of integrity."
Woods apologized to his family, friends, fans and supporters and offered a special mea culpa to those who work for his foundation, promising that the work would continue.
The golfer took no questions from the media and access to the brief event held at TPC Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Vedra, Fla., was heavily controlled. Woods’ handlers allowed a handful of wire service reporters in the room.
Woods left it unclear when he would return to the links, where he has dominated the pro golfing tour since turning professional in 1996. Rumors have abounded that he would begin his comeback at the Masters tournament in April. Woods won his first major at the Augusta, Ga., tournament and has always been a favorite of the crowds that gather for the event.
“I do plan to return to golf one day I just don’t know when that day will be,” a visibly shaken Woods said. ”I don’t rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need make my behavior more respectful of the game.”
The golfing legend who, with 14 is second only to Jack Nicklaus in the number of PGA major tournaments won, has been the focus of intense scrutiny since a car accident on November 27 outside his Florida home.
In the wake of the accident, Woods’ charmed life careened out of control as several women came forward with stories about Woods that painted the picture of a sex-crazed celebrity who had a woman in every city he visited.
Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren took the couple’s two children and moved out of the home they shared in a gated Florida community. Woods reportedly checked into a Mississippi clinic for treatment of sex addiction.
Woods was adamant during the speech that Nordegren should take no blame for the events that led to the split up and that rumors that she attacked him the night of the accident were false.
“Elin never hit me that night or any other night,” he said. "There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage.”
Woods took a warning tone when discussing the media’s behavior toward his wife and two children, scolding reporters who he said followed his daughter to school, staked out his wife and pursued his mother.
“Please leave my wife and family alone,” he said.
Once the golden child of professional sports, his star plummeted within days of the accident. Several of Woods’ sponsors abandoned him as the sordid stories – as well as the number of reported affairs – mounted. At this point it’s unclear where he stands with his numerous endorsement deals as Woods said he will return for inpatient treatment.
In a statement released after Woods' speech, EA Sports, which has featured Woods in its golf video games for more than a decade, said the company's relationship with Tiger "remains unchanged."
“It was good to see Tiger address the public today, and we’re supportive of his focus toward family and rebuilding his life," said EA President Peter Moore. "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.”
A spokesman for Gillette, which pays Woods a reported $15 million to endorse its razors, also said the company's relationship with the golfing star is "unchanged."
"He spoke today and he addressed the issues he felt were important." said spokesman Mike Norton. "There is no change in our relationship."
Other sponsors weighed in as well after the speech, with longtime sponsor Nike throwing its support behind their beleaguered pitchman.
A tearful Woods concluded his speech by promising that his friends would one day find reason to believe in him again.
"Finally, there are many people in this room and there are many people at home that believed in me. Today I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again,” he said before hugging his mother and others.