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No comeback date for Tiger

The watching world has a much clearer idea of Tiger Woods' state of mind now after he finally went in front of a camera yesterday with a rather awkward-looking audience at the TPC Sawgrass Club House at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida.

But as for playing golf again, that remains totally up in the air. "I do plan to return one day. I just don't know when that day will be," he said at the end of a 15-minute statement which was clearly an ordeal for him to deliver.

By not ruling out that his comeback could be this year the world number one -- a position he has held since June 2005 and approaching 600 weeks in all -- has left the door open to a complete season away from the sport.

The Masters in April now appears highly unlikely. The US Open in June at Pebble Beach, scene of his record 15-stroke victory in 2000, and the Open in July at St Andrews, where his last two visits have seen wins by eight and five shots, look questionable.

And then there is the Ryder Cup in Wales in October. Do not count on him being there either.

Having already spent 45 days in "in-patient therapy" for his personal problems, the 34-year-old father of two is now heading back for more.

It might be another three months before he is seen in public next and whether his marriage is still intact then is another debatable point.

Wife Elin and their two young children, two-year-old daughter Sam and one-year-old son Charlie, were not present yesterday. Instead it was his Thai mother Kultida who gave him the biggest hug afterwards and, as they shared tears, whispered in his ear: "I'm so proud of you. Never think you stand alone. Mom will always be there for you and I love you."

Woods apologised to his family, his friends and his fans and made a plea for his wife and children to be left alone.

He denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs and, while understandably not going into any of the details of any of his affairs, called his behaviour "selfish and irresponsible".

At pains to say his wife never hit him before the November 27 car crash which was the catalyst for all the newspaper allegations, Woods added that there had never been domestic violence in their marriage.

"Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame."

They are believed to be living apart in Orlando, however. "I was unfaithful. I cheated. I am the only person to blame. It's up to me to start living a life of integrity.

"I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in (he was raised a Buddhist). I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.

"I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. Thanks to money and fame I didn't have to go far to find them."

Finding a new way through life is now the priority for Woods and hitting a little white ball into a small hole -- millions though it earns him every year -- is going to take a back seat for a while longer. The sport will survive without him, of course, and people will remember that the two majors he missed in 2008 after knee surgery were both thrillers -- and both won by Padraig Harrington.



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But Tim Finchem, head of the US PGA Tour, admits that Woods being out of golf is bound to have repercussions.

"He does generate a significant increase in the overall interest in the sport, no question," commented Finchem after sitting in on the world number one's televised statement.

"He does increase significantly the number of people that watch on television and that plays into our long-term relationship with our television partners and the value of television rights. So I don't want to minimise the long-term impact. But I think in this case the good news from today is that he plans to return, he could return as early as this year and he clearly has taken the first very visible step in the road to that return."


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