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Tiger Woods apologizes, admits he cheated and says he is undergoing therapy

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010; D04

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. -- Tiger Woods, who has earned a billion dollars and gained worldwide fame playing a solitary game in front of millions of eyes, stood alone again Friday morning before the world and took a step toward regaining control of a life that, he acknowledged, had spiraled out of control. While offering abundant contrition for his acts, he also demanded sensitivity and patience as he pieces back together his psyche, his marriage and his golf game.

In a 13 1/2 -minute statement carried live by major television networks and cable channels, Woods apologized for his marital infidelity, chastised the media for intruding upon his family's personal life, acknowledged having undergone treatment to address his behavior and vowed to return to professional golf, perhaps this year.

"I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated," Woods, 34, said. "What I did was not acceptable. . . . I have a lot to atone for."

Woods emerged from behind a blue curtain in the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass golf club -- headquarters of the PGA Tour -- just after 11 a.m., wearing a navy blue blazer, gray slacks and a light blue shirt without a tie. Speaking slowly and purposefully into the camera, and pausing occasionally to gather himself, he read from a prepared statement, gripping the unadorned lectern with both hands.

"I felt I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me," he said. "I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them."

The appearance marked his first in public since the incident early on Nov. 27, when police were summoned to Woods's home outside Orlando after Woods wrecked his SUV near the bottom of his driveway. In the days and weeks that followed, with as many as a dozen women emerging as his mistresses -- either willingly, or as alleged in tabloid reports -- Woods's only public comments consisted of two written statements posted on his Web site. He remained out of public sight, reportedly attending a sex-addiction rehabilitation center in Mississippi.

On Friday, his immediate audience, to which he spoke directly several times, included his mother and other family members, and selected friends, plus three wire-service reporters who, per ground rules set by the Woods camp, did not ask questions. Notably absent was his wife, Elin Nordegren, the mother of his two young children.

Woods made frequent mention of his wife, praising her "enormous grace and poise during this ordeal" and denying media reports that she had attacked him during the Nov. 27 incident, in which he was found bleeding near his wrecked car, ultimately requiring hospitalization.

He also said they had begun the process of trying to repair their marriage.

"As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words," he said. "It will come from my behavior over time." But he added, "These are issues between a husband and wife."

With the chosen setting and the ground rules ensuring he held control of the proceedings, Woods kept many things private -- revealing few or no details about the Nov. 27 incident, the exact nature of his treatment and the number of affairs he has had. Of his golf future, he said only: "I plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year."

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who was seated in the front row for Woods's statement, said he has no knowledge of a specific timetable for Woods's return. The Masters -- the season's first major championship, of which Woods is a four-time champion -- begins April 8.

"He has prioritized, clearly, over the last three months, getting to a certain point in the issues he's dealing with before he wants to take that step," Finchem said. "Only he can make that decision."

Regarding his immediate plans, Woods said he planned to leave Saturday for "more treatment and more therapy," saying, "My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before."

Woods showed an altogether different emotion when speaking of the media's handling of his story, spewing his words venomously as he denied media speculation he has used performance-enhancing drugs, and especially as he accused paparazzi of following his 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Sam, to school, and "staking out" his wife and mother.

"Whatever my wrongdoing," he said, "for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone."

During the course of his statement Friday, Woods apologized repeatedly to specific people and groups -- his family, his friends, his sponsors, his staff members and his fans -- but in his closing remarks he spoke generally to "those who believed in me."

"Today I want to ask for your help," he said. "I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again."

Then, he stepped down from the lectern, gave his mother, Kultida, a long, deep hug -- "Mom will always be there for you, and I love you," she said she whispered to him, according to an Associated Press account -- and proceeded down the front row, dispensing hugs and handshakes to several friends and business associates.

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