Sergio Garcia was battling desperately to save his reputation last night after a racist remark aimed at Tiger Woods triggered outrage and disgust throughout golf.
A repentant Garcia, 33, issued an apology to Woods, his fellow professionals and the European Tour after the ill-judged joke at an awards dinner in London, when he offered to serve Woods fried chicken for dinner.
Though the European Tour neglected to penalise the Spaniard, his principal sponsors, TaylorMade-Adidas, issued a strongly worded statement in which they condemned the outburst.
"Sergio Garcia's recent comment was offensive and in no way aligns with TaylorMade-Adidas Golf's values and corporate culture. We have spoken with Sergio directly and he clearly has regret for his statement and we believe he is sincere. We discussed with Sergio that his comments are clearly out of bounds and we are continuing to review the matter."
Garcia said: "I was caught off guard by the question ['What night will you be inviting Tiger around for dinner?' Answer: 'Every night, we will give him fried chicken']. But don't get me wrong. I understand that my answer was totally stupid and out of place. I can't say sorry enough about that.
"Most importantly, I want to apologise to Tiger, and anybody that I could have offended. I feel sick about it. I'm truly, truly sorry. I called Mark Steinberg, his manager. He didn't pick up but I left him a message and told him that I was very sorry and that I would love to talk to them as soon as possible and make sure everything is OK. It was a bad comment and shouldn't have been said. I will apologise to him face to face."
Woods issued his own condemnation via his Twitter account: "The comment that was made wasn't silly," Woods wrote. "It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. I'm confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players [Championship] ended nearly two weeks ago and it's long past time to move on and talk about golf."
The chief executive of the European Tour, George O'Grady, elected not to impose a sanction on Garcia after a lunchtime meeting. "Together with Commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA Tour, who attended the Players' Awards Dinner with me last night, we spoke to Sergio Garcia at the conclusion of his Pro-Am round," O'Grady said.
"Sergio expressed very deep and sincere regret for his unguarded and, in his own words, "stupid" remark and we are also aware of his statement of apology issued at 12.25am this morning. Following our meeting, we have accepted his full apology and we consider the matter closed."
Garcia was grateful for that. "They felt very strongly about it. I'm very thankful that they were there to obviously help and be behind me. They both accepted my apologies."
For Garcia's fellow players the episode was hugely embarrassing. Rory McIlroy, who sat alongside Garcia with the rest of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team, recoiled behind a nervous laugh when the insult spilt forth. "I was sitting on the sofa at the front and sort of glanced back and was like 'eech'. I think he really does regret what he said and is truly sorry for it."
Justin Rose was peeping through his fingers. "As soon as he said it there were nervous giggles. It was a Stevie Williams-type moment. I'm sure he regrets it. It's going to be up to Tiger and Sergio how quickly it goes away."
Luke Donald, Garcia's closest friend on tour, said: "He had a lot of regret and wished it hadn't happened. I don't think he even meant to say it in a way. It just came out."