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Nike stand by Tiger

ORLANDO, December 15- Tiger Woods won much-needed backing Monday from the head of key sponsor Nike, while one of the troubled golf star's alleged mistresses apologized to his wife Elin for the pain she had caused.TIGER_WOODS_Woods, a squeaky-clean marketing juggernaut, became the first billion-dollar athlete thanks to endorsements that have started to vanish even as the world’s top golfer said he will take an indefinite break to work on personal issues.

The chairman of US sportswear giant Nike, which has backed Woods since his 1996 professional debut, told Sports Business Journal in remarks published Monday that he believed the storm would blow over the 14-time major winner.

"I think he has been really great," Phil Knight said. "When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip, but the media is making a big deal out of it right now."

His comments came after Accenture, a Dublin-based technology and management company, said Sunday it was ending six years of ties to Woods because he was "no longer the right representative for its advertising."

Gillette said Saturday it would phase Woods out of advertisements during his break from golf, calling it a supportive move.

AT&T, which backs Woods’ own US PGA event, said in a statement, "We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with him."

But Woods also received support Monday from Swiss watch manufacturer Tag Heuer, which said it planned to continue its relationship with him.

Knight called the admitted infidelity by Woods "part of the game" in the industry of endorsements and said when it comes to building brands around athletes, "There is always a risk.

"One of the things we always try to do when we have a big endorsement is check out the character and the pattern of the individual, but you’re not going to get it right all the time, and if you’re going to be in the business you have to recognize that."

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"Obviously, he was one we checked out and he came out clean."

The latest gossip-page fodder in the icon’s epic meltdown came when former alleged mistress Cory Rist appeared on the Today show, apologizing to his wife Elin and saying Woods portrayed his marriage as falling apart in 2006.

"I understood that things were very difficult at home, not what we thought they were on TV," Rist said on the US show. "According to him, things were rough and they were going to separate.

"He said, ‘We’re on the outs,’ but she was pregnant and they had to get through that."

Us Weekly magazine quoted Rist as saying, "He would stay there because she was pregnant, because of his reputation and image – he had to uphold that."

Rist said her relationship with Woods began in June of 2006, barely a month after the death of Woods’s father and golf mentor Earl.

Woods’s first child with Elin, daughter Sam, was born a year later after the 2007 US Open. The couple’s other child, son Charlie, was born 10 months ago.

At least a dozen women have reportedly claimed to have been lovers of Woods, who turns 34 on December 30. The New York Post reported Monday that a 13th woman, Julie Postle, was named by an ex-boyfriend as having had a Woods fling.

"I don’t know how he had the time to have so many women in his life," Rist said. "I don’t think he’s an honest man."

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She apologized to Elin Woods, who has purchased land on an island in Sweden but has given no public indication whether or not she is willing to stay married to Woods in the wake of his infidelity.

"I can only imagine the pain she is feeling now and I’m sorry," Rist said. "I’m sorry for her pain. I hate that I’m a part of it."

It was early in the morning on November 27, two days after a tabloid newspaper revealed a relationship between Woods and New York show club hostess Rachel Uchitel, that Woods crashed a vehicle into a tree and a hydrant, touching off a firestorm that has threatened to destroy his marketing image.

Fox News reported that Uchitel and Woods were both in Palm Beach on Monday.

Woods was said to be on his yacht "Privacy" while Uchitel reportedly told friends she was going to visit Palm Beach, where her mother lives, for the holiday season.

Woods has drawn extra attention and sponsor support to golf and a prolonged absence by the superstar and a halt to his pursuit of the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus could deal a major blow to global interest in the sport.

US television contract talks with the PGA are expected to begin late next year. Six-year PGA deals with US networks CBS and NBC expire in 2012.

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