Tiger Woods is shifting his focus from winning majors to saving his marriage.
Two weeks after Woods crashed his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, setting in motion a swift fall that featured reports of rampant extramarital affairs, golf’s biggest star delivered a stunning development of his own. He temporarily is 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 was on the sidelines.
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 since Woods mentioned his “personal failings” and “transgressions” in a Dec. 2 statement. “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.”
“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 is going through his third divorce, said he has been trying to reach Woods and “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.
As for Woods’ corporate endorsements, all 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 standing amid cactus plants studying his next shot 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 Woods’ specific business 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.
“I think it’s great that he’s going to put his family first and work things out,” Stricker said from Naples, Fla., where he is playing the Shark Shootout. “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.”
Reactions from around the golf community:
“It will impact on every tournament Tiger plays, I believe. Let’s hope the tabloid press finishes quickly and we get on supporting good golf. He is suddenly, I hate to say, more normal now. There is a mystique which has been lost now and let’s hope that golf isn’t damaged by that, and it shouldn’t be. There was an aura, and that wall if you like has been split slightly, so there are cracks and I feel that it gives us more opportunity of winning these big events now.” — European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie.
“It’s tragic. I think this whole thing is tragic. I am in touch with his wife Elin Nordegren now and then. Me and my husband Mike have been out dining with Elin and Tiger on a few occasions. Perhaps it won’t happen as often now.” — Former top-ranked women’s golfer, Annika Sorenstam.
“I don’t know anything. I have no comments to this and I don’t know either.” — Nordegren’s father, radio talk show host Thomas Nordegren, on speculation that the couple are on their way to Sweden.
“For years to come, he will be a figure of fun to comedians great and small. Tiger Woods will have to put up with those jokes and japes for 20 years to come. It’s a very messy situation and I would advise him to go and see the people that Michael Douglas, the actor, went to see because he had addictive sex problems. He’s obviously got a problem. We were told for years that his father stood by the side of the green throwing pebbles in buckets of water, shouting and blowing whistles to make him oblivious to all these noises. Now we have to see how strong his mind is.” — Veteran BBC golf commentator Peter Allis.
“To make a sacrifice like this, looking at how he has been throughout his career is a big shock. He was so one-dimensional in his quest to break golf records and to be known as the best golfer of all time. But you have to wonder about the validity and truthfulness of anything he says right now.” — BBC golf commentator Jay Townsend.
“Indefinite is a scary word. If Tiger Woods indefinitely doesn’t play golf, that’s not good for us.” — Australian golfer Geoff Ogilvy.
“What he did was totally wrong. 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. It’s his personal life, so that’s up to him if he wants to get his family life in order. It’s a hard thing to come back from.” — Australian golfer and Woods’ friend, Craig Parry.
“With the scrutiny his life is under it would be nigh on impossible to turn up and concentrate on playing golf, which is what he does best. The only way he could go was to take a break, try and sort his life out and come back when he’s ready. He does that well from injury and he’ll be back when he’s ready to do so. If he takes a hit through his sponsors that will not damage him too much. He’s a wealthy man and the least of his worries are monetary. They are probably the last thing on his mind.” — English player David Howell.
“Hopefully he can go on something like Oprah, maybe even with his wife, to show that they’re making a real go of it. The clever move would be for him to say, ’I’m coming back when Elin tells me the time is right.”’ — Veteran British publicist Max Clifford.