PONTE VEDRA, Fla. Feb. 19, 2010— -- A contriteTiger Woods apologized today for a string of marital infidelities, and said he would return to rehab for sex addiction.
"I want to say to each of you simply and directly I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in," Woods said in his first public appearance since the Thanksgiving weekend car crash that began the unraveling of Woods' shadowy sex life.
"The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame," he said.
Woods said he planned to return to his sexual addiction rehab Saturday and said he could return to golf as early as this year.
"I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know what day that will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year," he said.
Wearing a blue blazer and open-collar shirt, Woods came to a podium alone. Though much of his speech centered on his wife, Elin Nordegren, and his two children, they were not in attendance.
"Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior. As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss; however, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us," Woods said.
Sitting in the front row was Woods' mother, Kultida Woods, and when the world's best golfer concluded his remarks he went to his mother for a long and emotional hug.
"I said, 'I'm so proud of you. Never think you stand alone. Mom will always be there for you and I love you,"' Kultida Woods told the golfer following his speech, according to the Asssiocated Press.
Woods made his act of contrition in a carefully worded statement to a small group of what his management team called "friends, colleagues and close associates," including PGA Tour Chairman Tim Finchman, from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Though only four people were allowed in the room at the Sawgrass Country Club for Woods' 13-minute speech, millions of people watched the event live as every major network covered Woods' brief address.
No one was allowed to ask questions, and Woods made it clear he had no intention of answering any.
"Every one of these questions and answers are a matter between me and Elin," he said firmly.
Woods became embroiled in a spiraling sex scandal in November, when following a mysterious car accident over Thanksgiving, nearly a dozen women said they'd had affairs with the married golfer.
Woods said he alone was to blame for his infidelities and that his wife did not attack him on that November night.
"I felt I was entitled. … I was wrong I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. I brought this shame on myself," Woods said.
At another point, he said, "For all that I have done, I am so sorry. ... I have a lot to atone for."
Woods said part of therapy was to embrace his religion, Buddhism, which he said he had "drifted away from in recent years.
" Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught," he said.
A handful of reporters were allowed in the room, but they were not permitted to ask questions. Given the restrictions on the media, the Golf Writers Association of America refused to cover the event.
Before the event reporters were patted down to ensure none were carrying recording devices.
Though Woods' management team felt a public apology was necessary to restoring the once squeaky-clean golfer's now tarnished image, a new ABC News poll found most fans just want the superstar athlete to return to sports.
Some 56 percent of respondents to an ABC News poll said they believed the scandal is a personal matter, which the golfer does not need to publicly address.
Some 65 percent of respondents said Woods should resume playing golf this season. Seven percent of all respondents, and a mere 2 percent of fans, said he should permanently quit professional golf.
The timing of the statement has raised eyebrows, coming right in the middle of the Match Play Championship in Arizona sponsored by Accenture, the first company to publicly drop him as a spokesman.
Fellow golfer Ernie Els told Golfweek magazine after Woods' announcement that his statement was "selfish."
"I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday," he told the magazine. "This takes a lot away from the golf tournament."
PGA Tour Commissioner Tom Finchem said he was confident that Woods would return to golf soon and that his absence would not have a significant negative impact on the tour.
"If there is anything about Tiger Woods it's when he sets his mind to do something and brings attention and focus to do something, he's been successful," Finchem said.
The commissioner said he did not know when Woods would return to play, but in the short-term it would not affect the tour.
"I don't want to minimize long term impact. The good news from today is that he plans to return and could return as early as this year," he said.
Many of the companies still employing Woods as a spokesman, as well as his fellow golfers playing today at the Match Play tournament in Arizona, were supportive of his decision to apologize and continue treatment.
But one of Wood's former mistresses, Veronica Siwik-Daniels, better known by her porn star name Josslyn James, said she wanted a personal apology from the golfer.
"I would be open to a telephone apology from Tiger, but I really feel that I deserve to look at him in person, face to face, and look in his eyes because I didn't deserve this" Siwik-Daniels said.
"Tiger pursued me, and over time I fell in love with him. I'm sorry for my part in their [his family's] pain," she said.
Siwik-Daniels' lawyer Gloria Allred, who also represents Woods' first reputed mistress, Rachel Uchitel, said the porn star gave up her career for Woods.
"Veronica gave up her occupation, her primary source of income, her only source of income as a porn star because Tiger was very jealous and couldn't stand the thought her being with another man," Allred said. "However this former porn star is also a human being who has feelings and who has been hurt and has been devastated by the lies of the man she loved and whom she believed loved her."
In the initial aftermath of the scandal, Woods made two statements, apologizing via his Web site before secreting himself into seclusion and taking an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf.
As a dozen women -- among them a porn star, a lingerie model and a prostitute -- emerged to claim they had affairs with Woods, several of the golfer's sponsors abandoned him and his standing with fans fell quickly.