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Golfer Tiger Woods apologized Friday to his family, friends, colleagues, close associates and fans in his first public words in nearly three months since a car accident sparked shocking revelations about his marital infidelities.

Woods, dressed in a black suit jacket and open-collar blue shirt, spoke for 13½ minutes at the clubhouse of the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the home of the PGA Tour, on the third day of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

Accenture was the first sponsor to drop the world's No. 1 golfer after he became embroiled in a sex scandal in late November.

"I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behaviour I engaged in," Woods told a room of about 40 people that included his mother, Kultida Woods, but not his wife, Elin Nordegren.

Woods didn't take questions from the three wire services in attendance, and he was to return to therapy, reportedly for sex addiction, on Saturday. He has already spent 45 days in treatment, adding he has more work to do to resolve his personal problems but insisting there were no instances of domestic abuse in his marriage.

"I was unfaithful," said Woods, looking composed and speaking in a steady voice. "I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable."

He said he plans to return to golf, perhaps at some point this year.

"When I do return, I need to make my behaviour more respectful of the game," he said.

"In recent weeks, I have received many thousands of emails, letters and phone calls from people expressing good wishes. To everyone who has reached out to me and my family, thank you. Your encouragement means the world to Elin and me."

When Woods finished, he hugged his mother and she whispered in his ear.

"I said 'I'm so proud of you," Kultida Woods told him. "Never think you stand alone. Mom will always be there for you and I love you."

Crash landing

On Nov. 27, Woods crashed his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, sparking sordid revelations of infidelity.

He wasn't heard from for 78 days after a magazine released a voicemail he allegedly left one of the women with whom he'd been romantically linked, pleading with her to remove her name from her cellphone's voicemail in case his wife called to check on the number.

Woods admitted to "transgressions" in a statement on his website in mid-December and has seen been on the cover of gossip magazines and been the butt of jokes on national talk shows.


Radio show MJ Morning show personalities Victoria Martin, left, and Meredith Walusek stand near one of the entrances of TPC Sawgrass where Tiger Woods made a statement in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. ((Joe Raedle/Getty Images))

As for his marriage, he said: "Every one of these questions and answers is a matter between Elin and me, issues between a husband and wife."

In Sweden, Elin's father, Thomas Nordegren, said he saw Woods's apology.

"I watched it but I have nothing to say right now," Nordegren told The Associated Press.

Elin's mother, Barbro Holmberg, declined comment through her spokeswoman Eva Malmborg.

Former champion Nick Faldo, whose own personal life has been subject to media scrutiny over the years, watched Woods and told the Golf Channel: "It has left a big question mark: When is he going to return? We have had the apology, but as golfers we are back at Square 1."

"He's an American hero, and he's had his issues," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

"At the end of the day, he's a human being. We all make mistakes," he said. "My personal reaction was that his comments were heartfelt. He clearly recognizes that there has been serious impact to a wide range of individuals and organizations."

The companies that have stuck most closely by Woods, Nike Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc., reiterated their support.

"Tiger has apologized and made his position clear," the company said in a statement. "Nike fully supports him and his family. We look forward to him returning to golf."

EA Sports president Peter Moore said in a statement: "It was good to see Tiger address the public today, and we're supportive of his focus toward family and rebuilding his life."

Woods's appearance drew reaction from all corners.

"It's a bummer, his personal life," U.S. Olympic gold-medallist Shaun White said. "He's trying to pick his words very carefully and apologize. I respect that."

From the Olympics, U.S. alpine skier Julia Mancuso posted on Twitter: "Do we think this is coming from the heart or the paper! Come on Tiger! Give us some reality here."

Woods, believed to be the first athlete to gross $1 billion US in earnings and endorsements, has won 71 times on the PGA Tour and 14 majors, four shy of Jack Nicklaus's record.

Veronica Siwik-Daniels, one of Woods's alleged mistresses and a former pornographic performer, watched the event with her attorney in a Los Angeles radio studio.

"I really feel I deserve to look at him in person face to face in the eyes because I did not deserve this," she said.

With files from The Associated Press