By Alex Tresniowski
January 25, 2010 12:00 PM

Now and then another mom or shopper will spot her and pause—there’s Elin, the scorned wife. That’s her taking her kids Sam and Charlie for a walk around her neighborhood in Windermere, Fla., or grabbing lunch with girlfriends, or strolling along Main Street “all done up and looking gorgeous,” as one local who recently saw her put it, “like a million dollars.” Here are Elin and her children—three-fourths of a family—doing normal, everyday things.

Yet while Elin Nordegren soldiers on, low-key but hardly in hiding, the missing family member—a disgraced Tiger Woods—is hunkered down and “desperate,” say friends, to somehow set things right with his wife. According to several sources close to the golfer, Woods very much wants to keep his family intact and is trying to figure out how to get Elin to forgive him for his serial infidelities with as many as a dozen women who claim to have had affairs with him. Woods, 34, who has vanished from public view since the Nov. 27 SUV crash that unleashed the sex scandal, “isn’t partying; he’s not seeing other girls,” says someone from his inner circle. “He’s working on his life and marriage. He wants one more chance to make this marriage work. He’s like, ‘Whatever I need to do: therapy, whatever.’ If Elin told him to stand on his head, he’d do it.”

But fixing what is broken won’t be as easy for Woods as repairing his busted lip, injured the day of the crash (see box below). A Florida source who knows Tiger says, “Elin is still very angry and doesn’t want to go back with him.” Agrees the Tiger insider: “She isn’t giving him a chance. She won’t budge. He’s trying, but she keeps shutting him down.”

Instead Elin seems intent on moving on. In contrast to Woods’ “Where’s Waldo?” act—he’s been rumored to be everywhere from Manhattan to Africa—Elin has held her head high in public, smiling for photos and flashing a left hand conspicuously missing her wedding ring. She is still enrolled at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where she’s studying psychology. And she is fully in charge of the children, Sam, 2, and Charlie, 11 months, dropping them off at school or taking them to the playground. “She wants Tiger and everyone around him to know that she is doing fine,” says the Tiger friend. “She wants him to know she doesn’t need him.”

But has she made up her mind to leave Woods? According to friends, Elin agreed to see her husband in their southern California home over the Christmas holidays for joint therapy sessions. She has also had heartfelt phone conversations with him about their future. What’s clear is that she will never agree to take him back just for appearance’s sake. Woods’ image as a disciplined, dependable family man is essentially “unrecoverable,” says New York-based crisis consultant Chris Tennyson. And while some might see being forgiven by Elin as the only way to resurrect that image, “right now Elin is sending a message: I won’t be part of this if it’s not sincere,” Tennyson believes. Elin has contacted high-profile divorce attorney Sorrell Trope—who has represented Nicole Kidman and Britney Spears—to explore her options, says a friend.

Woods, too, is finally facing the possibility his marriage won’t survive. He’s been strategizing with his closest advisers, including longtime agent Mark Steinberg, and they are “managing his expectations,” says a source close to his camp. “Tiger is clinging to the hope he can keep his marriage intact. He still has feelings for Elin. But in the last few days he’s been counseled that a divorce is almost certain because Elin has no choice.”

Will Woods, known in golf for miraculous recovery shots out of treacherous spots, somehow be able to keep his family together? “He is making an earnest effort,” says someone close to the sport. “He’s saying, ‘I really messed up and I need to find out why.'” For once, though, all the focus and hard work in the world might not be enough to get him out of trouble.