Tiger Woods didn’t quite beg for forgiveness during his sprawling, affectless apologia Friday morning, but he certainly did say he was sorry.
Delivered like an elementary-school play, in front of a big blue velvet curtain and with his mother in the front row, the speech touched on Woods’ many betrayals, his Buddhism, his recent stint in sex therapy, and his plans to return to golf someday. He apologized exhaustively: to his wife, his children, his employees, his friends, his family, and of course his corporate sponsors; to the beneficiaries of his charitable work and anyone else he has embarrassed this year (to everyone, really, apart from his legion of mistresses). By way of conclusion, the troubled golfer, sounding more like a fallen god than a humbled man, asked everyone out there to “find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.”
“A crisis-management genius put that thing together for him,” said Judith Regan, a few minutes after it was all over, once Woods had abandoned the podium, embraced his mom, doled out hearty back-claps to a few bros in the front row and then disappeared back behind the curtain for who-knows-how-long until we hear from him again.
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“I think it was extremely well thought out, from every possible angle, probably exactly the way he plays his golf game,” Regan said. “Whether or not it’s truly sincere, who knows. It’s very difficult for human beings to behave themselves all the time. But it is the kind of thing that’ll make a lot of people cry, and it’s in the right direction. I give him a very high score.”
Regan, a publishing titan and firebrand who endured intense media scrutiny for her relationship with now-convicted felon Bernard Kerik, joined other prominent women in giving Woods a good grade on Friday.
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“I actually think Elin should give him one more shot,” said Tricia Walsh, a British actress best known as the “YouTube divorcee” for a Web video she made in 2008 discussing her high-profile divorce from Shubert Organization President Philip Smith. “They seem happy, and they’re together. Sex is sex, it’s not love. The women that he chose were, I’m sorry, they were hooker types. Bloody waitresses and things.”
Without mentioning the “hooker types” per se, Woods straightforwardly discussed his sins and repeatedly heaped all responsibility on himself. “What I did is not acceptable,” he said, “and I am the only person to blame.”
The speech was Letterman-like in its directness: “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated.” It was Sanford-ian in its jarring religiosity: “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.”
It was child-like in syntax, monotonous in delivery. It was spoken as if by a condemned man: largely devoid of emotion, implausible, halting, artless, and sad. His tone shifted twice, when defending his wife Elin against allegations that she went at him with a 9-iron and when hopping on that favorite hobby-horse for scandal-plagued public figures: attacking the press for invading his privacy.
For her part, Regan found the performance endearing. “The man has not engaged in criminal conduct,” she said. “You know what I’m saying? The guy was making love to women. The guy’s an adolescent. I don’t know too many men who, given a billion dollars and being the No. 1 athlete in the world—I don’t know too many men who would actually resist.”
Matos, who stood dazed at her then-husband’s side during a 2004 press conference when he resigned his governorship and came out as a “gay American,” sympathized with Elin Woods’ Jenny Sanford-like decision not to attend her husband’s press conference on Friday. “It’s very surreal,” she said. “It’s very, very painful and humiliating to see your entire life played out for really the entire world.”
And, for all the systematic mea culpas, there’s no guarantee Woods’ public self-flagellation will amount to much sympathy going forward.
“He needs to stop this rehab and press-conference crap and just get out there and play golf,” said Rachel Marsden, the conservative Canadian political columnist, who has seen a number of personal relationship dramas play out publicly, including an instance in 2008, when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales informed her, via his own Wikipedia page, that they had broken up. (She followed up by auctioning his clothes off on eBay.)
“At this point, it's a PR exercise,” she said of the Woods’ speech. “And a useless one. Everyone has formulated an opinion on this from the avalanche of media coverage generated over the past months. One controlled press conference isn't likely to change that.”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.