By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Tiger Woods announced Friday that he will take an "indefinite" leave from golf in an attempt to repair his personal life, while also admitting to infidelity in his marriage.
The disclosure comes two weeks after a single-car accident near his Florida home led to the revelation of a long list of alleged mistresses, sullying the name of an athlete once upheld as a role model and the perfect pitchman for corporations wanting to enhance their brand.
Writing under his own name on his personal Web site, Woods pleaded for privacy -- a commodity that has been elusive in the two weeks of reports about transgressions in his personal life -- and said he needed to take time away from the game that has defined him in order to save his marriage to Elin Nordegren, the mother of his two young children. He gave no indication when he might play again.
"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, perhaps the world's best-known athlete, who has been in the public eye since he was a California teenager, has neither spoken publicly nor been seen since his single-car accident. His only public comments have come in missives on his Web site, the first trying to play down the car accident, another admitting to and apologizing for "transgressions." He did not play in a tournament that benefits his own foundation last week in Southern California.
A slew of reports -- mostly by celebrity magazines and gossip Web sites and television shows -- have brought forth a number of women who claim to have had relationships with Woods during his five-year marriage to Nordegren. Salacious text messages and a voice mail have become daily material for reports, and the names of some women have been among the most popular topics on search engines such as Google.
In that environment, as he had in previous posts, Woods pleaded for privacy for himself and his family, and wrote of a need for "personal healing."
"After much soul-searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," he wrote. "I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father and person."
The blow to the PGA Tour could be significant, depending on the length of Woods's absence. When he missed nearly eight months because of reconstructive knee surgery during the second half of 2008, television ratings for professional golf were cut in half. Since Woods won the Masters in 1997, his first full season on tour, tournaments have been divided into two categories -- those with Woods, and those without, with the former commanding far more attention and prestige than the latter.
"We fully support Tiger's decision to step away from competitive golf to focus on his family," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement Friday evening. "His priorities are where they need to be, and we will continue to respect and honor his family's request for privacy. We look forward to Tiger's return to the PGA Tour when he determines the time is right for him."
Woods, who turns 34 on Dec. 30, would normally start his PGA schedule in late January in La Jolla, Calif., home to the Torrey Pines Golf Course and site of his last major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open, when he unforgettably overcame journeyman professional Rocco Mediate in an event that lasted one extra day and 19 extra holes. Woods later admitted he played the event with a broken bone in his leg and torn knee ligaments.
Woods gave no indication when he might play -- or speak publicly -- again.
"The entirety of someone's life is more important than just a professional career," Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, said in an e-mailed statement Friday night. "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."
Woods has won 14 major championships, and his stated goal since he became a sensation as a teenager -- indeed, the goal he hung on the wall of his room at home -- was to top Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles. The first major of the season, the Masters, will be held April 8-11. It is the 14th tournament on the PGA Tour schedule, and Woods traditionally plays a carefully selected slate of events to prepare for each major.
Woods also serves as host of the AT&T National, a PGA Tour stop that has been held the past three years over the Fourth of July weekend at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. The tournament -- which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, which includes among its missions to "inspire youth" -- will move to suburban Philadelphia for 2010 and 2011 before returning to Congressional in 2012. Organizers declined to say Friday night whether Woods would play in the event next summer.
Woods and his foundation were hoping to break ground on a Tiger Woods Learning Center, which would provide educational programs for children, in Washington some time next year, essentially making the nation's capital his East Coast headquarters. Woods released another statement through his foundation Friday.
"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," he wrote. "I am committed to them and to the Foundation's excellent work, and I know my staff will continue these efforts during my absence."
Woods's physical condition is also unknown. Though a statement on his Web site originally labeled his injuries as "minor" after the Nov. 27 traffic incident -- in which he drove his Cadillac sport-utility vehicle into a fire hydrant and then a tree outside his home in the gated community of Islesworth, Fla. -- he was taken to an Orlando area hospital. A Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman said later that day, "This was not a bump or a bruise." On Dec. 1, the patrol issued him a traffic citation, fined him $164, charged him four points on his license, and considered the matter closed.
The matter of his return to tournament golf, however, is now very much open.
"I would like to ask everyone, including my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA Tour, and my fellow competitors, for their understanding," Woods wrote on his Web site. "What's most important now is that my family has the time, privacy, and safe haven we will need for personal healing."