Tiger Woods said yesterday he was taking an indefinite leave from golf to work on saving his marriage, using the word "infidelity" for the first time in a statement posted on his Web site.
"After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," Woods said. "I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."
Woods and his wife, Elin, have been married five years and have a 2-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son.
The announcement came two weeks after a car accident set in motion a shocking downfall for the world's No. 1 player, and included sordid allegations of numerous extramarital affairs. One woman even shared a voice mail she said Woods left her two nights before his Nov. 27 accident.
Woods has not been seen in public since the accident.
"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."
The PGA Tour said it supported the decision by its biggest star.
"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" on Dec. 2. "We look forward to Tiger's return to the PGA Tour when he determines the time is right for him."
The announcement by Woods raised the possibility, depending on how long he stays away from the game, that he could miss the Masters for the first time since he played as an amateur in 1995. The tournament is April 8-11.
The AT&T National, hosted by Woods, is scheduled for July 1-4 at Aronimink in Newtown Square, Delaware County. The PGA Tour event is being played at Aronimink the next two years as Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., prepares to host the 2011 U.S. Open.
One of his favorite playing partners said Woods was doing the right thing.
"I think it's great that he's going to put his family first and work things out," Steve Stricker said from Naples, Fla. "Golf will always be there. He wants to make sure his marriage is right and everything is good on the home front. We'll sure miss him on tour until he gets things taken care of."
It will be the second consecutive season the PGA Tour begins without its No. 1 player, although this is different. A year ago, he was out of golf for eight months while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and television ratings dropped 50 percent during his absence.
"We knew before he was coming back," Stricker said. "Now we're not sure when he's coming back. But this sounds good. I hope everything works out for him."
Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, told the Associated Press that he supported Woods' decision to take time off for 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."
Addressing the subject of Woods' sponsors, Steinberg said that "it would be both premature and inappropriate to comment on the status of specific business relationships.
"Suffice it to say, we have had thoughtful conversations, and his sponsors have been open to a solution-oriented dialogue," he 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 include Nike, Gillette, AT&T, Accenture, and Tag Heuer.