AUGUSTA, Ga. In his first press conference since revelations of infidelity sent him into hiding and knocked him from his perch as sports' most beloved athlete, Tiger Woods on Monday acknowledged that he needed to become a better man, and that he looked forward to playing golf with peace of mind.
"When you're living a life when you're lying all the time, that's not fun," Woods said Monday in a 35-minute question-and-answer session with more than 200 journalists in the interview room at Augusta National Golf Club, where Woods will return to competition at the Masters on Thursday. "It's fun again."
Leaning forward in his chair, wearing a thin goatee, and looking each questioner in the eye, Woods took on a bevy of queries, many about the morning of Nov. 27, when he crashed his Cadillac Escalade and set off a barrage of stories about his infidelity. Woods appeared calm as he spoke of his life over the last five months, but he revealed little in the way of details. He said the accident left him with a sore neck and a busted lip that required five stitches, and that he remained silent for several weeks because he was following his lawyer's advice.
Woods spent 45 days in rehabilitation he would not say for what and said his actions had caused pain and damage to his family. Of his two young children, Woods said, "One day, I'm going to have to explain all this to them."
The 34-year-old Woods also firmly denied that he had ever taken performance-enhancing drugs, despite being treated by a Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, who is under federal investigation for supplying human growth hormone to athletes. Woods said federal agents had contacted his agent, "but they haven't asked for my time."
"He [Galea] did come to my house. He never gave me HGH or any PEDs," Woods said. "I've never taken that my entire life. I've never taken any illegal drug, ever, for that matter. I had PRP, platelet enriched plasma treatments."
The treatment, Woods said, was for both the torn ACL in his left knee in 2008 and for a torn Achilles tendon in his right leg, which he sustained at the end of that year while running. "I had PRP injections throughout the year," he said. "I kept re-tearing it throughout the year and throughout the summer. I used tape most of the year to play. I also went to hyperbaric chambers after the injections. It does help you heal faster."
Woods was asked about reports that he had taken Ambien and Vicodin. He said that he had taken both medications, but that he was not addicted and had not received treatment for the drugs. He said the Vicodin was for his knee, and that he started taking Ambien in 2006 when his father grew sick with cancer and died. When asked whether the drugs played a role in his car crash, Woods said: "Well, the police investigated the accident and they cited me 166 bucks and it's a closed case."
Woods was also tight-lipped when asked about his wife, Elin. He said she was not coming to Augusta, and when the reporter pressed him, asking if he should have returned so soon, he did not directly answer the question.
"Well, I'm excited to play this week," he said.
Woods also apologized to his peers for the endless questions they have faced since he stepped away from golf last November. He said he planned on being more respectful of the game, with fewer outbursts on the course, whether they be positive or negative.
Little by little, Woods has re-entered the game in which he became an icon before revelations of infidelities surfaced in the wake of a car accident in the early morning hours of Nov. 27. On Feb. 19, after being out of the public eye for almost three months, Woods emerged at the PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and publicly apologized for his transgressions and revealed that he was undergoing therapy.
"I was unfaithful, I had affairs, I cheated," Woods said then. "What I did was not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame. I brought this shame on myself."
Last month, after revealing that he would return to professional golf at the Masters, Woods held a pair of five-minute interviews with ESPN and the Golf Channel. He admitted to being nervous about how the fans would receive him. After playing a pair of practice rounds at Augusta National in recent weeks, Woods played again on Sunday with his friend Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Masters champion.
On Monday morning, Woods took to the course yet again, this time with 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples. It was his first time playing in front of fans since last November's Australian Masters, which he won. Woods was greeted warmly on the first tee by a group of a few hundred fans, and that number swelled into the thousands as he continued his round. He nearly pulled his opening tee shot into the ninth fairway. Unbowed, he teed up again and hit his second drive down the middle.
Several people in the gallery cheered Woods, who engaged them with waves and smiles.
The galleries couldn't be nicer," he said. "The encouragement that I got, it blew me away to be honest with you, it really did. ... Today was just something that really touched my heart pretty good."
After sensational coverage for most of the last five months, Woods will now attempt to piece together what was once golf's most feared phenomenon. He won 14 major championships from 1997 through 2008, but it is impossible to know how soon he will return to that dominance, or if he ever will again. In 2006, following a two-month absence after his father's death, Woods returned to the United States Open at Winged Foot and missed the cut.
But these circumstances are as unique as any. The biggest name in sports has been laid bare. This week, at the tournament that has defined him more than any other, Woods will start anew.