*A very emotional and contrite Tiger Woods faced a room full of his family, friends, business associates and strategically-chosen press members Friday to apologize for his marital transgressions and announce his eventual return to golf following more sex rehab.

“Many of you in this room are my friends, many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me or you’ve worked with me or you’ve supported me. Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me,” the golfer said in his first public remarks since the sex scandal begain in November. “I want to say to each of you simply and directly I am deeply sorry for the irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.”

In his 13-minute speech, carried live across cable news channels and ESPN, Woods also praised his wife Elin and cleared up reports that she attacked him with a golf club during a Thanksgiving blowup.

“Elin never hit me that night or any other night,” Woods said. “There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame. The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful, I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was unacceptable and I am the only person to blame.”

Of his multiple infidelities, Tiger said: “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules don’t apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I thought I worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all of the temptations around me.

“I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife’s family, my friends, my foundation and kids all around the world who admire me. My failure has made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It’s now up to me to make amends, and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I made.

“I recognize I have brought this on myself, and I know above all I am the one who needs to change. I owe it to my family to become a better person. I owe it to those close to me to become a better man. That’s what my focus will be. I have a lot of work to do.”

Woods had not been heard in the 78 days since a magazine released a voicemail he allegedly left one of the women to whom he has been romantically linked, warning that Woods’ wife Elin might be calling. “My real apology to her will not come in the form of words,” Tiger said of Elin. “It will come in my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss. What we say to each other will remain between the two of us.”

Woods’ speech took place in the Sunset Room on the second floor of the TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour. Two pool video cameras broadcast Woods’ statement, which comes during the Match Play Championship, sponsored by Accenture, the first company to drop Woods as a pitchman.

Tiger took time to offer an apology to employees of his foundation, and vowed that its work would continue on. “To those of you who work for me, I have let you down personally and professionally,” he stated. “My behavior has caused considerable worry to my business partners. To everyone involved in my foundation, our work is more important than ever.”

Tiger also denied reports that he had used performance enhancing drugs and reaffirmed his devotion to Buddhism, saying his mother raised him as a Buddhist and he had strayed in recent years. “Buddhism teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint,” he said. “Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.” In a direct message to the paparazzi, Tiger begged them to stop harassing his mother, his wife and small children. “My behavior doesn’t make it right to follow my 2 ½ year old daughter” and stake out her school and location,” he said with steel in his voice.

The athlete announced he will eventually return to golf. “I just don’t know when that day will be,” he said. “I don’t rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.” In closing, Tiger thanked friends and fans who have encouraged him. “Today I want to ask for your help,” he said, looking directly into the audience. “I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again. Thank you.”

With that, he shared an emotional hug with his mom, who sat directly in front of him. He also gave quick hugs to other close friends in the front row before making his exit. Woods will now return to the clinic where he has been undergoing treatment for sexual addiction.