Tiger Woods taking ‘indefinite’ leave from golf

Tiger Woods is shifting his focus from winning majors to saving

his marriage.

Two weeks after Woods crashed his car into a tree outside his

house, setting in motion a swift fall that featured reports of

extramarital infidelities, golf’s biggest star made a stunning

announcement.

He announced he is temporarily walking away from the game that

made him the first $1 billion athlete.

“After much soul searching, I have decided to take an

indefinite break from professional golf,” Woods said Friday

evening on his Web site. “I need to focus my attention on being a

better husband, father, and person.”

It will be the second straight year that the No. 1 player will

spends a long period sidelined.

A year ago, he missed eight months while recovering from

reconstructive surgery on his left knee. This time, Woods is trying

to repair a broken family, knowing this will be a far more

difficult comeback.

“I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my

infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and

children,” Woods said. “I want to say again to everyone that I am

profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible

to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to

try.”

Woods and his wife, Elin, have been married five years. They

have a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son. The No. 1 player

in golf has not been seen in public since the accident.

Woods gave no indication when he might return in what could be a

pivotal year as he pursues the record 18 major championships won by

Jack Nicklaus. Woods, who did not win a major this year, has

14.

The Masters, where Woods has won four times, is April 8-11. The

U.S. Open is at Pebble Beach, where Woods won by a record 15

strokes in 2000, and the British Open returns to St. Andrews, where

he has won twice by a combined 13 shots.

“We knew before he was coming back,” said Steve Stricker, one

of Woods’ favorite players on tour. “Now, we’re not sure when he’s

coming back. But this sounds good. I hope everything works out for

him.”

The PGA Tour supported the decision.

“His priorities are where they need to be, and we will continue

to respect and honor his family’s request for privacy,” PGA Tour

commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement, the tour’s first

public comment on the matter. “We look forward to Tiger’s return

to the PGA Tour when he determines the time is right for him.”

Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, told The Associated Press that it

was the right decision for Woods and his family.

“The entirety of someone’s life is more important than just a

professional career,” Steinberg said in an e-mail to the AP.

“What matters most is a young family that is trying to cope with

difficult life issues in a secluded and caring way. Whenever Tiger

may return to the game should be on the family’s terms alone.”

Craig Parry, a near neighbor and friend who played a practice

round and two competition rounds with Woods in Australia last

month, said Tiger brought the problems on himself.

“What he did was totally wrong,” Parry said at the Australian

PGA Championship. “And he’s got no one to blame except himself.

You can look at other people, but he’s the one who’s got to look in

the mirror.”

John Daly, who has been married four times and knows a thing or

two about bad publicity, said he had tries to reach Woods but “he

just didn’t want to talk to anybody.”

“I feel if there is anybody in this world who could give him

some advice …” Daly said in Australia. “I hope we get him back

soon. They always say there is no one bigger in golf than the game

itself. But Tiger is.”

Woods was out of action from July 2008 until the end of February

this year, and television ratings dropped 50 percent. The tour is

trying to renew a half-dozen title sponsors, and it is to begin

negotiations on the next television contract later next year.

Woods’ corporate sponsors have stood by him for now.

“Tiger has been part of Nike for more than a decade,” Nike

said in a statement Friday. “He is the best golfer in the world

and one of the greatest athletes of his era. We look forward to his

return to golf. He and his family have Nike’s full support.”

Meanwhile, Accenture no longer has an image of Woods on the home

page of its Web site. Earlier this week, Woods was among three

rotating pictures on the home page.

AT&T said it supported Woods’ decision.

“We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with

him,” the company said in a statement. Not only does Woods carry

the AT&T logo on his golf bag, the company is the title sponsor

of his PGA Tour event over the July 4th weekend.

Steinberg said it would be “premature and inappropriate” to

talk about whether the sponsors will end their relationships.

“Suffice it to say, we have had thoughtful conversations and

his sponsors have been open to a solution-oriented dialogue,”

Steinberg said. “Of course, each sponsor has unique considerations

and ultimately the decisions they make we would fully understand

and accept.”

Earlier this year, Woods became the world’s first athlete to

surpass $1 billion in career earnings, according to Forbes

magazine. His sponsors also include Gillette, Gatorade and TAG

Heuer.

Woods last played a tournament Nov. 15 when he won the

Australian Masters for his 82nd victory around the world.

Stricker, who went undefeated as Woods’ partner at the

Presidents Cup, said his leave was the right decision.

“It’s great that he’s going to put his family first and work

things out,” Stricker said. “Golf will always be there. He wants

to make sure his marriage is right and everything is good on the

homefront. We’ll sure miss him on tour until he gets things taken

care of.”

Woods also indicated he would step away from the work of the

Tiger Woods Foundation, which has served some 10 million

children.

“There are millions of young people who have truly changed

their lives through the foundation’s programs, and millions more

still counting on us for help,” Woods said in a separate statement

through his foundation. “I am committed to them and to the

foundation’s excellent work, and I know my staff will continue

these efforts during my absence.”

Associated Press Writer Dennis Passa in Coolum, Australia,

contributed to this report.