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Sombre speech, a hug from his mom -- then it's back to rehab

A hush fell over the darkened room at the PGA club house and all eyes turned to a break in the heavy blue drapes.

A lone helicopter buzzed loudly overhead as Tiger Woods stalked into the room, his eyes searching for the microphone like a troubled swimmer looking for a lifeline.

The atmosphere was intimate, a tightly controlled setting for the golfer's first public appearance in months, but cameras beamed the event out to a live television audience watching for every word.

Woods launched into a solemn, faltering and long apology as he sought to save his marriage and push the reset button on a billion-dollar career that has been on hold since his stunning fall from grace last year. "I have let you down," he said, speaking nervously, to the room filled with 40 or so people at the headquarters of the US PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

"I have let you down personally," he said, looking over to his mother, Kultida, a slight figure dressed in black and perched on a wooden chair in the front row.

Woods' management invited only a small group of journalists to the golfer's appearance -- they were seated at the back of the room. Curtains over the tall windows shielded the room from more media outside.

Barred from asking questions, reporters focused on body language. Dressed in a blue blazer, ironed shirt but no tie, and with no sign of any sponsors' logos, the 34-year-old American was sombre and sometimes spoke in a monotone. There was no sign of the million-watt smile that helped him parlay his skills on the fairway into becoming the richest man in sports with $100m (€73m) in annual earnings.

The minutes stretched out. His tone softened as he sought to reconnect once more, first with the people in the room, and with the fans around the world.

"I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again." Stepping forward, he hugged his mother. There was no sign of tears. As abruptly as he arrived, he turned and swept out between the blue drapes. The last glimpse of him was a hand reaching up in silhouette to his brow, as he headed back to treatment at a rehabilitation centre.