By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson, a fierce rival of Tiger Woods throughout their careers, said the disgraced world number one did not owe him an apology for any damage his philandering might have done to the sport.
Preparing for the U.S. Masters and his first event since a stunning fall from grace amid tawdry revelations about extra-marital affairs, Woods arrived at Augusta National and immediately apologized to his fellow golfers for having dragged them into the controversy.
"He doesn't owe me an apology," said Mickelson, who has had a sometimes heated rivalry with Woods. "I don't know if there's been an individual who has capitalized more on the opportunities that he's brought to the game of golf than myself.
"He doesn't owe me a thing."
The world number three's staunch support of his great rival echoed that of other players who have thrown their backing behind Woods's return to the sport following a self-imposed exile of nearly five months.
The greatest golfer of his generation and perhaps all-time, Woods brought unprecedented attention and growth to the sport as prize money, television ratings and interest sky-rocketed.
Woods also capitalized on his charisma and success, earning a reported $100 million annually from endorsements before the scandal to become the world's first $1 billion athlete.
In the 34-year-old American's absence, there has been concern that the sport has suffered losing fans, sponsors and interest.
"We've had much more notoriety, need for stories and interest by readers. Television ratings have been higher because of it.
"We can go endlessly, the things he's done for the game.
"I think we are all appreciative and I don't think this is going to have any long term, devastating effects to the game of golf."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)