|The golfer has attempted to maintain a personal and low profile throughout his career [AFP]
US golfer Tiger Woods will take an indefinite leave from the sport to try to save his marriage, the biggest fallout yet from two revealing weeks filled with allegations of extramarital relations with several women.
The announcement came a fortnight after Woods crashed his car into a tree outside his Florida home, setting in motion a sequence of revelations that have now derailed the career of the world's No1 player, who for 13 years rarely made news off the golf course.
"I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person,'' Woods said in a statement on his website.
Woods and his wife, Elin, have been married five years and have a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.
"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 has not been seen in public since the accident.
He gave no indication when he might return. Woods is pursuing the record 18 major championship titles won by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods, who did not win a major this year, has 14.
The Masters, where Woods has won four times, takes place in April 8-11. The US 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.
It will be the second straight year that a PGA Tour season begins without its star. A year ago, Woods was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery that kept him out a total of eight months.
"We knew before he was coming back,'' said Steve Stricker, one of Woods' favourite players on tour.
"Now, we're not sure when he's coming back. But this sounds good. I hope everything works out for him.''
|So far sponsors have stood by the golfing star [GALLO/GETTY]
The PGA Tour supported the decision.
"His priorities are where they need to be, and we will continue to respect and honour his family's request for privacy,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement, the tour's first public comment on the issue.
"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 news agency 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.''
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.''
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 include Nike, Gillette, AT&T, Gatorade, Accenture and Tag Heuer.
Woods last played a tournament November 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 home front. 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.''