Woods: 'I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted'

Once his only concerns were putts and pars. Now it's all about apologies and amends

The blue backdrop, the bare podium, and the respectful audience gave it the air of a presidential press conference. Except that presidents generally take questions. And instead of geopolitics, the newsflash that stopped the world spinning for almost 14 minutes yesterday was this: Tiger Woods has given up extra-marital sex.

"I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated," said Woods, as American broadcast networks in the US scrambled their schedules to ensure live coverage of the event at the headquarters of the PGA tour in Florida. "I have a lot to atone for."

In front of an audience mostly family, friends, and associates, Woods did not say when he would return to the game that made him famous. But as well as the admission that he had been a bad person was a promise that the future would be different. "It's now up to me to make amends," he said. "And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I've made."

The volume of sales on the New York Stock Exchange dropped noticeably as traders paused to watch the golfer speak. Helicopter shots showed us Woods driving away when it was all over, as commentators more usually employed analysing politics gave their verdicts. If the rush of revelations about the carnal liaisons of Woods after he crashed into a fire hydrant in November had verged sometimes on French farce, this, gasped George Stephanopoulos of ABC, was "one of the most remarkable public apologies ever by a public figure".

It was one of the oddest, for sure. Woods, whose looks are more puppy than serial philanderer, seemed all beaten up, as well he might, discussing his serial sexcapades with his mother in front of him and his wife very notably absent: Elin may or may not end up standing by her man, but she was not there yesterday. The repentant philanderer did not cry, but looked like he might.

He did offer news. He has been in sex rehab since the end of December and, after a brief break to see his family (and us), he will return to the clinic today. "I have a long way to go," he explained. We are not likely to see him swinging an iron any time soon. "I do plan to return to golf one day, but I don't know when. I don't rule out that it will be this year."

As he shifted his prepared pages from right to left, he had more to share, including some complaints about what the press has got wrong. He has never used performance-enhancing drugs (the performance, we assume, being that on the green) and Elin never went after him with a nine-iron. "There have never been episodes of domestic violence in our marriage, ever," he insisted, looking long and hard into the camera.

Clearly, he was talking to more than one audience. He was addressing not just the media, his hostility towards them undimmed, to judge by his decision to allow only three wire reporters into his confessional chamber as more than 100 more watched on TV from a nearby hotel. He was also talking to his fellow golfing professionals, and the people, and above all, Elin herself. So he wanted us to know she had responded to their crisis with "grace and poise" and no one had the right to criticise her for what had happened. "What I did was unacceptable and I am the only person to blame," he said. "My real apology to her will not come in form of words, it will come with my behaviour over time. We have a lot to discuss. However, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us." Will they part? He was not saying.

Indeed, there was much that Woods did not say and will not say, if he can help it. He did not allow questions because he knows what would come. How many women was it exactly, Tiger? When did it start? Have you fathered children out of wedlock? Have you paid for women to remain silent? And on, and on, and on.

Woods did, however, allude to a general state of mind that, he says, led him to such recklessness. "I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply," he said. "I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far" – his speech broke – "didn't have to go far to find them."

Apparently, Buddhism, the religion he grew into, will help guide him now. "Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security," he said. "It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught."

The words seemed sincere. Certainly, he demonstrated that in 14 minutes it is possible say sorry and express remorse and contrition in many ways. "I recognise I have brought this on myself ... Today, I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your hearts to one day believe in me again ... I was wrong. I was foolish ... I know I have severely disappointed all of you."

But did it work? Probably. Americans do not forgive their politicians quickly. But the hill to forgiveness is usually less steep for celebrities.

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