VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia said “sorry” 11 times and used the word “apology” on five occasions as he spoke of his regret at causing a furor by making a “fried chicken” jibe at world number one Tiger Woods.
Spaniard Garcia told reporters on Wednesday that his comment, made at the European Tour Player of the Year awards the night before, was “stupid and out of place” and said he regretted it the moment he made it.
Fourteen-times major winner Woods, whose relationship with the Spaniard is frosty at best, was in unforgiving mood earlier in the day.
“The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate,” the American said on his Twitter account.
Garcia’s remark came when he was asked on stage whether he would be inviting Woods for dinner during next month’s U.S. Open in Pennsylvania.
“We will have him round every night,” said the world number 14. “We will serve fried chicken.”
Fried chicken has become a racial stereotype in the United States when referring to African-Americans - a reference to the days before the abolition of slavery when chicken was believed to be a staple part of the diet.
Garcia moved quickly to explain his remark, at first issuing an apology through the European Tour.
The 33-year-old Spaniard then took part in a hastily-arranged news conference on the eve of the PGA Championship at Wentworth to underline his regret.
“I want to send an apology,” said Garcia. “I didn’t want to offend anyone...I was caught off-guard by the question.
“I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner. I understand my answer was totally stupid and out of place and...I can’t say sorry enough about that.
“I’d also like to say sorry to the European Tour and to my Ryder Cup team mates for taking the shine away from what was a wonderful dinner that we all thoroughly enjoyed until that moment,” said Garcia.
“Finally, and most importantly, I want to apologize to Tiger. I feel sick about it, I’m truly, truly sorry and hope we can kind of settle things down and move on.”
Garcia and Woods fell out this month after an incident at the Players Championship in Florida.
The Spaniard blamed a roar from the crowd watching Woods for an errant shot when the two men featured in the same group.
The gallery erupted during Garcia’s backswing upon seeing the world number one reach for his five-wood for a daring escape from a tee shot that finished deep into the trees.
The pair subsequently made clear they have never been the best of friends but Garcia said that he had already tried to contact Woods in a bid to make amends for his “fried chicken” remark.
“I don’t have Tiger’s phone number but I have called his manager,” the Spaniard said. “He didn’t pick up but I left a message and told him I was very sorry and I would love to talk to them as soon as possible to make sure everything is okay.
“I told him how sorry I am and that obviously it was a bad comment that shouldn’t have been said.”
Asked if the incident could somehow bring the two men closer, Garcia replied: “I hope so.
“I’m terribly sorry about what happened and I’m sure we’ll be able to talk soon and I will apologize face to face, move forward and forget the whole thing.”
Garcia said he had a sleepless night on Tuesday and contemplated pulling out of the Wentworth event.
“My mind is not in the greatest place at the moment but I feel like the tournament deserves to have me,” he added. “I now want to go out there tomorrow and give it everything I have.”
Garcia spoke to European Tour chief George O’Grady and his U.S. PGA Tour counterpart Tim Finchem at the awards dinner.
“They were very good about it,” he said. “They were both fine about it.
“I’m very thankful they were there to help me and be behind me. They both accepted my apology,” said Garcia before adding that neither men had mentioned there would be any form of punishment for his comment.
Garcia’s remarks echoed those made by former U.S. Masters winner Fuzzy Zoeller in 1997 when he joked with reporters to tell Woods not to ask for “fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” at the next year’s Champions dinner.
Zoeller was subsequently dropped by two sponsors.
Additional reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond