Displaying none of the fist-pumping bravado that has punctuated his already legendary playing career, Tiger Woods reentered public life on Friday morning with a prepared statement delivered at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. By turns solemn, shaky and defiant, Woods repeatedly apologized for the "irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in." Addressing a small, hand-picked audience that included his mother, Tida, former Stanford teammate Notah Begay and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, Woods told both his audience and a riveted TV viewership, "I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did. I am embarrassed I have put you in this position. For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for."
Dressed in a blue blazer, Woods had glassy eyes and his voice was occasionally shaky, but he displayed a more characteristic fight in defending his wife, Elin, and demanding privacy for his family during his 13-minute address. Woods did not offer any details about the car crash in the early morning hours of Nov. 27 that touched off the tabloid feeding-frenzy and ultimately devoured his image as a clean-cut family man.
But alluding to speculation that a quarrel with Elin may have precipitated the smashup, Woods said, "There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage. Ever. Elin has displayed enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame." Talking directly to the media, Woods said, "Whatever my wrongdoings, for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone."
Woods offered few clues to a golf community that is anxious to know when he will return to action. Acknowledging that he has been in therapy "receiving guidance for the issues I was facing," Woods said that "starting tomorrow I will leave for more treatment and more therapy." He added, "I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't when that day will be. I don't rule out it will be this year."
But this solemn gathering was about Woods's failings away from the golf course. "I stopped living by the core values I was taught to believe in," he said. "It is up to me to start living a life of integrity. I once heard, and I believe to be true, it's not what you achieve in life that matters, it's what you overcome. Character and decency are what really count." Woods rightfully acknowledged that he has a long way to go to regain the trust and respect of his family, friends and fans.
The greatest moment of Woods's golf career the record 12-stroke victory at the 1997 Masters that launched a juggernaut ended with an iconic hug with his father, Earl (who died in 2006). That teary embrace helped shape Woods's image as a decent young man with an extraordinary talent.
After completing his statement on Friday morning, Woods haltingly walked to the front row of seated guests and embraced his mother in a long, teary hug. Thus concluded the lowest moment of Tiger Woods's public life. Where he goes from here will continue to be the biggest story in sports.