Today, Tiger Woods offers eye-popping apology

Golfer's plan after mea culpa still shrouded in mystery

February 19, 2010|By Jeff Shain | Tribune Newspapers

ORLANDO, Fla. — — It's the private apology set to bring the sports world - and gossip tabs - to a temporary stop.

Shortly before lunch, Tiger Woods will step before a gathering of perhaps three dozen friends and associates at the stately TPC Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, take a deep breath and end a 70-day public silence by apologizing for the scandal that has driven his marriage and his focused career off course.

And then, according to reports, golf's No. 1 attraction will disappear again.

Woods will return to sex-addiction therapy after making his statement, the Associated Press reported Thursday night, citing a letter from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem obtained by the news service.

The letter, written to the tour's governing policy board, explains that Woods' appearance couldn't wait until a non-tournament day because he's on a short break in his rehabilitation.

"As we understand it, Tiger's therapy called for a week's break at this time during which he has spent a few days with his children and then will make his statement before returning," the letter said, according to AP.

"Accordingly, there was very little flexibility in the date for the announcement."

The letter would explain a pair of cryptic comments made by both Finchem and Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent, as word of the apology session began to spread.

Steinberg told Golfweek magazine Thursday that there was no intention to upstage the WGC Match Play Championship, but "there is a very good reason [to do it Friday] ... and not do it next week."

Meanwhile, when asked by reporters at the Match Play in Arizona about a possible Woods return, Finchem replied: "I don't know what he's going to do after he finishes his rehab."

Few mea culpas have been so highly anticipated - Bill Clinton's, perhaps, or Ben Johnson's when he was dragged before a Canadian drug inquiry 10 months after being stripped of his Olympic gold medal.

But Johnson - or Mark McGwire or Alex Rodriguez or Marion Jones - didn't prompt ABC, CBS and NBC to carry their statements live. ESPN, too. Golf Channel not only will carry the live feed, but also will lead in with a 30-minute preview.

"It's an interesting platform," said Lori Booker, president of Orlando's CBR Public Relations, specialists for 25 years in steering corporations through sticky headlines. "We know the strategy is classic."

Woods does plan an apology - the two-paragraph statement alerting the world to today's gathering specifies as much. Other than that, the announcement prompts more questions than answers.

How much insight, if any, will he give to the extramarital activities that sent the tabloids scurrying to link him to more than a dozen women? What about reports that he recently underwent treatment for sex addiction at a Mississippi clinic?

Will Elin Woods be in attendance? And if so, in what capacity? Could a divorce announcement be in the offing?

Is Woods ready to resume his competitive career, and where? Reports have said the made-for-TV Tavistock Cup could be Woods' target, though no confirmation has come from Woods or his spokesmen.

"I don't know what decisions he has to make," Finchem said before heading home from the Match Play. "In a vacuum we'd like him back as soon as possible - but we want him back, importantly, when he's dealt with the issues he felt like he had to deal with."

Woods' tightly controlled world began spinning off its axis in the wee hours of Nov. 27, when he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree outside his Isleworth driveway. A dazed Woods was rushed to a local hospital that night.

The accident followed a National Enquirer report that Woods was having an affair with New York City events planner Rachel Uchitel, who reportedly accompanied him to December's Australian Open.

Woods has not been seen publicly since and has issued just three statements via his Web site as the romantic claims mounted. The last one, on Dec. 11, announced he would take an extended leave of absence from competitive golf to sort out his personal life.

"It may not be possible to repair the damage I've done," Woods wrote at the time, "but I want to do my best to try."

Booker expects Woods' apology will follow the "classic" three-step pattern used previously by many celebrities: First, acknowledge the past and look toward the future. Second, discuss the future in greater detail. Finally, talk only about what's ahead and refuse to discuss the past anymore.

"It's the beginning of a fresh start," Booker said, "realizing there can't really be a fresh start because he's such a public figure."

On Thursday, the frenzy began to descend on Ponte Vedra Beach, where the TPC Sawgrass serves as the PGA Tour's headquarters. According to observers, and Entertainment Tonight already had reporters in place and security had been beefed up around the TPC's Mediterranean-style clubhouse.

Woods is striving to keep some matter of control, though. Plans called for just six reporters to be in the room - three news agencies and three pool reporters appointed by the Golf Writers Association of America. The golfer will not take questions.

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