AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Scandal-hit Tiger Woods has failed to live up to expectations as a role model, Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne said on Wednesday.
In an unexpected departure from the southern reserve Payne usually displays at his pre-U.S. Masters news conferences, he said one of the world’s most marketable sportsmen would be judged in the future by the sincerity of his efforts to change.
“Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children,” said Payne.
“It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here, it is the fact he disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and our grand kids.”
The disgraced Woods is returning to professional golf this week after a break of nearly five months, following startling revelations he had had a string of extra-marital affairs.
“Is there a way forward? I hope yes,” Payne said. “I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change.
“I hope he now realises that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing but would settle for his smile.”
World number one Woods, whose golfing dominance has placed him in the pantheon of sporting greats since he turned professional in 1996, had his squeaky-clean image ripped apart after he crashed his car in the middle of the night in November.
The bizarre incident outside his Florida home triggered a storm of media speculation over his private life and the 14-times major champion took an extended break from the game to try to repair his marriage to his Swedish wife Elin.
Woods, 34, admitted cheating on his wife and entered rehab for sex addiction before announcing last month he would return to competition at the year’s opening major.
In a highly anticipated news conference at Augusta on Monday, he took full responsibility for the marital infidelities which led to his fall from grace and he pledged to be more respectful of the game.
“He forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility,” Payne said. “I hope he can come to understand that life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of other people.
“We at Augusta hope and pray our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner but this time with a significant difference from the past.”
Woods, a four-times champion at Augusta, is scheduled to tee off in the penultimate group in Thursday’s opening round with fellow American Matt Kuchar and South Korean KJ Choi.
Asked if Augusta had beefed up security for this year’s Masters to safeguard Woods and other players, Payne replied: “Of course we were very aware of and responsive to the possible issues of this week.
“So without going into detail I think we did what we would always do and that is to make adequate provision for every contingency.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez
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