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Mystery still surrounds Tiger Woods' pending apology

No one has been told exactly what Woods will say Friday, but many will be watching to find out.

February 19, 2010|By Jeff Shain

Reporting from Orlando, Fla. — It's the private apology set to bring the sports world - and gossip tabloids - to a temporary stop.

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

About a mile away, dozens of reporters will assemble in a hotel ballroom to eavesdrop via a single-camera satellite feed. Millions more can watch on the various TV outlets that will break into regular programming, or on the Internet.

"We'll see where it goes," said John Cook, the PGA Tour veteran who helped shepherd Woods through the early days of his PGA Tour career. "We don't know. I know little more than anybody else."

Across the country, another PGA veteran, Ernie Els, was furious about the timing of Woods' announcement. "It's selfish," Els told Golfweek. "You can write that. I feel sorry for the sponsor [of the Accenture Match Play tournament in Tucson]. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament."

Few mea culpas have been so highly anticipated -- Bill Clinton, perhaps, or Ben Johnson when 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. The Golf Channel not only will carry the live feed, but lead in with a 30-minute preview.

"It's an interesting platform," said Lori Booker, president of CBR Public Relations in Orlando, Fla., 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 Friday'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," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said before heading home from the WGC Match Play Championship in Arizona. "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 sport utility vehicle into a fire hydrant and a tree outside his Isleworth driveway. A dazed Woods was rushed to a 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 the Australian Open.

Woods has not been seen since, and has issued just three statements via his website as the romantic allegations 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, TMZ.com and Entertainment Tonight already had reporters in place and security had been beefed up around the TPC's Mediterranean-style clubhouse.

"It's a private matter, really, but he's a public person," former Masters champion Bernhard Langer said from Boca Raton, Fla., where the Champions Tour's Allianz Championship will tee off Friday. "I don't think it's that private a matter when you're a public person."

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 Assn. of America. But the golf writers Thursday night voted not to participate. Woods will not take questions.

"The ones that have drawn the line and set boundaries seem to move on faster," Booker said. "I think he's saying [the in-person audience] are the only people he will answer to. The rest can watch, but only because he knows they have a responsibility to the public."

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