Woods begins comeback, faces questions from media (with photo gallery)

Saying the reception of the Augusta National fans “blew me away,” Tiger Woods began his comeback fro
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — While acknowledging he made some “incredibly poor decisions” in his personal life, Tiger Woods still thinks he can win the Masters — even coming back from a five-month layoff.

“Nothing’s changed,” Woods said today during an extraordinary 35-minute news conference at Augusta National. “I’m going to go out there and try to win this thing.”

Woods entered the interview room with a smile on his face and stopped to hug one of the green-jacketed club members, Ron Townsend. Woods again took full blame for his personal failings but stopped short of providing many new details. He wouldn’t say why he entered rehab for 45 days nor would he go into specifics about his infamous Thanksgiving night car crash, other than to say it took five stitches to close a lip wound.

“All I know is I acted just terribly,” said Woods, sporting the makings of a goatee. “I just made some incredibly bad decisions, decisions that hurt so many people close to me.”

He said his wife, Elin, would not be at Augusta. His personal life fell apart after revelations that he had multiple extramarital affairs during their 5½-year marriage.

Woods thanked his fellow golfers for the support he’s received since announcing his return to the PGA Tour and said he was pleasantly surprised how well the fans treated him during a practice round today. The outing was his first before a gallery since the sex scandal made him a tawdry tabloid fixture. He even flashed a bit of uncharacteristic charm, stopping to sign autographs — something he rarely does — while heading to the practice range to get in a few extra swings.

“The encouragement I got, it blew me away,” he said. “It really did. The people here over the years, I know they’ve been extremely respectful. But today is just something that touched my heart pretty good.”

The world has been watching to see if Elin would join him, and some women have been puzzled that the 30-year-old former model hasn’t already left her cheating husband. She is, after all, from Sweden — a nation famous for its strong-willed and independent women.

In her homeland, too, there has been some bewilderment that Elin Nordegren hasn’t split considering the scope of her husband’s infidelity.

But relationship counselors in the Scandinavian nation aren’t that surprised. Sweden is still a champion of women’s rights, but in recent years a more conservative view highlighting the merits of an intact family has been making a comeback.

Like Nordegren, many Swedes have grown up with divorced parents, and are increasingly focused on building homes and keeping their families together, said Lena Gustafsson, a psychotherapist who works in relationship counseling.

Woods and Nordegren have two children, a daughter Sam Alexis, 2, and a 1-year-old son, Charlie Axel.

“Many of the couples I see continue to live together, they solve their problems,” Gustafsson said.

That was not the case for Nordegren’s parents, who divorced before she started school and separately developed their careers — her father, Thomas Nordegren, as a correspondent for Swedish Radio, and her mother, Barbro Holmberg, as a politician.

In Sweden, divorces peaked at around 27,000 annually in the mid-1970s, at the height of the women’s liberation movement. Since then divorces have slowly declined to about 20,000 a year. Sweden’s population is about 9 million.

Gustafsson said a gradual return toward the family as a cornerstone in Swedish society has come as a reaction to a culture that many people viewed as too obsessed with individual self-fulfillment.

However, repeated infidelity is not something that is taken lightly, even in Sweden. When Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant in November and the extent of his extramarital affairs was revealed, the message in Swedish media and blogs was close to unanimous: Dump him.

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