AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods took full responsibility on Monday for the marital infidelities which have led to his startling fall from grace and admitted he had lied and deceived a lot of people along the way.
"I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark," the American world number one, who sported a goatee and wore a gray, yellow, pink and white-striped shirt and black trousers, told a packed news conference.
"I fooled myself as well. The full magnitude of it, it's pretty brutal. I take full responsibility for what I've done, and I don't take that lightly."
Speaking before his highly anticipated return to competition at the U.S. Masters on Thursday after a lay-off of almost five months, Woods said his Swedish wife Elin would not be attending the tournament.
He also pledged to give the game more respect in the future and that he would to try to tone down his occasional bad language and emotional outbursts out on the course.
Woods, a four-times champion at Augusta National, has not played professional golf since winning the Australian Masters on November 15 following revelations that he had had a string of extra-marital affairs.
"Coming into today, I didn't know what to expect with regards to the reception," said Woods who initially appeared nervous before calming down as the news conference unfolded. "I tell you what the galleries couldn't have been nicer.
"The encouragement that I got, it blew me away," added Woods, who made noticeable efforts to engage with the vast swarm of fans who watched him practice. "Today was just something that really touched my heart pretty good."
Woods had earlier played 18 holes with 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, and the pair were joined for the last six holes by 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
Asked about his occasional temperamental on-course behavior, he replied: "I'm going to try to not to get as hot when I play, but that means I won't be as exuberant.
"I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts...and be more respectful of the game."
The 14-times major champion also promised to focus much more on his life away from the course.
"It's not about championships, it's about how you live your life," he said. "I need to be a better man going forward than I was before.
"If I win major championships along the way, so be it. But along the way, I want to help more people that haven't quite learned to help themselves, just like how I was.
Asked if he felt ready to clinch his 15th major title after a lengthy break from competition, Woods replied: "Nothing's changed. I'm going to go out there and try to win this thing."
The American's golfing dominance has placed him in the pantheon of all-time sporting greats since he turned professional in 1996 but not even Woods can know how he will fare emotionally in his first tournament back.
"A lot has happened in my life over the past five months, and I'm here at the Masters to play and compete," he said. "And just really excited about doing that.
Woods, who rates Augusta National as one of his favorite layouts, spoke for 35 minutes in his first news conference since his private life unraveled at the end of last year.
The 34-year-old made a carefully managed public appearance with family and friends at PGA Tour headquarters on February 19, saying he was sorry for cheating on his wife and that he was undergoing therapy.
He finally took questions from the media in two five-minute interviews with the Golf Channel and ESPN last month.
The scandal around Woods erupted after he crashed his car outside his Florida home in the middle of the night in November, a bizarre incident that triggered a storm of media speculation over his private life.
The minor accident led to a parade of women alleging publicly they had had affairs with the golfer.
The 2010 Masters starts on Thursday.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)