Woods isn’t leaving for good, or even for long

Until two weeks ago, until that moment his SUV went pin-balling

down the street out of control, it seemed nothing could stop Tiger


Even now, after two weeks of a media frenzy over his late-night

accident and infidelity, the last thing he is going to do is throw

in the towel himself.

Woods isn’t leaving golf for good, or even for very long – at

least that’s the guess here. In a statement on his Web site Friday

evening, he said, “After much soul searching, I have decided to

take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my

attention on being a better husband, father, and person.”

As anyone who’s tried to become better at any one of those

things can attest – let alone all of them – it’s a never-ending


Although Woods’ statement didn’t provide details about how long

that “indefinite break” might last, it seems certain now to

extend beyond the San Diego Open at the end of January, when many

people expected him to make his 2010 debut. Truth be told, we

probably won’t have a real gauge of how long he will be away until

the Masters rolls around in April.

As the regular tournament wins have piled up, Woods increasingly

has turned his focus toward the majors. If he hasn’t shown up by

the Masters, it becomes possible to imagine him letting the rest of

the season go. Keep in mind he already has won majors at both

Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, the site of next year’s U.S. and

British Open, respectively. He might rarely have a better chance at

the calendar Grand Slam.

In the days right after the Nov. 27 crash, it seemed premature

at best – and silly at worst – to speculate on whether the clamor

that forced Woods into exile would endanger the goal he set for

himself as a kid: overtaking Jack Nicklaus and his 18 career major

victories at the top of the game. The story about Woods taping a

list of Nicklaus’ accomplishments and his age at the time to his

bedroom wall is well known. Of all the obstacles we thought might

derail that pursuit – even as he beat Nicklaus to every mark – a

lack of discipline wouldn’t have made the top 10.

Yet one thing we knew is that the only way to eclipse that total

was for Woods to be as good as Nicklaus was for as long as Nicklaus

was. Tiger is about to find out how daunting that can be.

Nicklaus was married when he came out on tour during the 1961

season, and Jack II, the oldest of his five kids, was born that

September. That means Nicklaus won when there was a growing family

at home making demands on his time, that he kept winning after

burying the most important influence in his life, his father,

Charley, in 1970, and then won some more while trying to grow the

Golden Bear brand – 24 years between his first major and his


Woods, on the other hand, started out with only as many

distractions as he wanted, but he has since lost control over that

number. His top priorities now – becoming a better husband, father,

and person – are even harder to attain. But as Nicklaus’ example

made clear, family and golf are not – and probably cannot be –

mutually exclusive.

When a handful of reporters caught up with Nicklaus in Florida

earlier this week, he was on a high school basketball court

following an awards ceremony. When the subject of Woods’ future

came up, Jack was initially uncomfortable saying anything at


“It’s none of my business,” he began. “I’ve had no comment at

all about it.”

When pressed, Nicklaus said “our public is pretty forgiving at

times. Time usually heals all wounds. I think the hardest thing is

obviously his family.”

Nicklaus didn’t venture a guess when Woods might return, or even

how he would know when the time was right. That’s different for

everyone. But the one thing that Nicklaus seemed certain about is

that Woods would resume the chase.

“He’s a great athlete,” Nicklaus said. “He’ll figure it


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org