By Doug Ferguson
MARANA, Ariz. — Tiger Woods spoke publicly Friday for the first time since his bizarre, Thanksgiving night car accident, beginning what his agent called “the process of making amends” for the sex scandal that sent him into hiding for three months.
“While Tiger feels that what happened is fundamentally a matter between he and his wife, he also recognizes that he has hurt and let down a lot of other people who were close to him,” Mark Steinberg said in an e-mail last Wednesday.
“He also let down his fans. He wants to begin the process of making amends, and that’s what he’s going to discuss.”
However, Steinberg said Woods will not take any questions from a small group of media. “This is not a press conference,” he said.
This will be Woods’ first public appearance since Nov. 27, when he crashed his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home. Woods’ only comments since then have been made through his Web site.
There was strict control over the appearance, typical of Woods’ career.
Steinberg described the gathering as a “small group of friends, colleagues and close associates,” who will listen to Woods apologize as he talks about the past and what he plans to do next. He said three wire services have been invited — The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg — and he asked the Golf Writers Association of America to recommend pool reporters.
Only one camera will be in the room to provide live coverage via satellite. Steinberg said other writers with proper credentials could watch from a hotel ballroom more than a mile away.
“The first time out, he’s better controlling it,” fellow player Padraig Harrington said from the Match Play Championship in Arizona. “Over time, there will be questions. At the moment, the best thing is a more controlled environment and gradually ease his way back into it.”
The timing is peculiar. The appearance will take place during the third round of the Arizona tournament, sure to steal attention away from the first big event of the year. The tournament is sponsored by Accenture, the first sponsor to drop Woods when he became embroiled in the sex scandal.
“He’s got to come out at some point,” Irish golfer Rory McIlroy said. “I suppose he might want to get something back against the sponsor that dropped him. No, I don’t know. It just went on for so long. I’m sick of hearing about it. And I’m just looking forward to when he’s getting back on the golf course.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he did not think Woods’ appearance was going to undermine the World Golf Championship event.
“We have tournaments every week,” Finchem said. “I think it’s going to be a story in and of itself. A lot of people are going to be watching golf this week to see what the world of golf says about it, my guess is. So that will be a good thing.”
As far as the PGA Tour’s part in the Woods event, Finchem said: “We were asked to make the facility available and to help with the logistics. That’s what we’re doing.”
Steinberg said only that Woods’ appearance during the championship was “a matter of timing.” Asked if it could have waited until Monday, he said, “No.”
Not everyone agreed.
“It’s selfish,” former U.S. Open and British Open champion Ernie Els told Golfweek magazine. “You can write that. I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament.”
Woods had a spectacular fall from his perch atop golf. He was believed to have been the first athlete to gross $1 billion in earnings and endorsements and, at 14 majors, was closing in on golf’s record of 18 majors held by Jack Nicklaus.
It all collapsed in the early morning hours after Thanksgiving.
Over the last few months, Woods has been on the cover of gossip magazines and the butt of jokes on national talk shows.
In the days before Woods’ accident, a National Enquirer story alleged the world’s No. 1 golfer had been seeing a New York nightclub hostess. Following the crash, a stream of women came forward to claim they had romantic relationships with him. One woman provided Us Weekly magazine with a voicemail she said Woods left her three days before the crash, asking her to take his number off her phone.
Woods admitted to “infidelity” in a statement on his Web site in mid-December and has been on an indefinite break from golf ever since.
Ian Poulter, who went extra holes to win his opening match, was among those curious to hear what Woods had to say. His only hope was to hear about it later.
“Hopefully, I’ll be on the golf course and not listening to it,” he said.