ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tiger Woods is taking an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf.
Using the word "infidelity" for the first time since his bizarre car accident outside his Isleworth home on Nov. 27, the world's top golfer issued a statement on his Web site Friday night in which he announced he's taking a break from the sport he's dominated for more than a decade.
"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 in his statement. "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.
"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. What's most important now is that my family has the time, privacy, and safe haven we will need for personal healing.
"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."
Woods' announcement came two weeks after he drove his Cadillac Escalade over a fire hydrant and into a neighbor's tree. Woods has not been seen in public since the crash, and in the days since, various news reports linking him to more than 10 women and accusing him of being unfaithful to his wife of five years, Elin Nordegren Woods, with whom he has a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.
Early Friday, The Sun newspaper in Britain reported that Woods has told his wife that he "will do anything" to save their relationship. The Sun's report said his wife drew up a list of requirements for her husband that he must meet to keep their marriage intact. One of those requirements, according to The Sun, would be to stay off the PGA Tour until regaining her trust.
It's unclear how long Woods will be absent from golf.
There's little doubt, however, that his hiatus will deprive the tour of its top attraction at a crucial time. The Tour, like all professional sports leagues, is feeling the adverse effects of the nation's greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. When Woods missed eight months to recover from knee surgery, television ratings for the Tour dropped 50 percent.
Woods has won 71 PGA Tour events, including 14 professional major championships, just four shy of Jack Nicklaus' all-time record.
Overflow crowds walk from hole to hole at Bay Hill and follow Woods when he plays in Central Florida's premier golf event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods won the event for the sixth time this past March, and the victory was his first since he missed eight months to recover from reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
"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. "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."
The Orlando Sentinel spoke briefly with two prominent Tour players on Friday night to gather reaction to Woods' announcement. And, in an apparent sign of just how sensitive Woods' situation is, both of the players declined comment.
Steve Stricker, ranked third in the latest Official World Golf Ranking, said that Woods was doing the right thing by taking a hiatus from golf.
"I think 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.
"We knew before (with the knee injury) he was coming back. Now we're not sure when he's coming back. But this sounds good. I hope everything works out for him."
Even though he didn't win a major championship in 2009, Woods still captured the Tour's FedEx Cup as its top overall player and earned a $10 million bonus.
Woods has generated $1 billion in career earnings, according to Forbes magazine.
Nike, Gillette and AT&T are just a few of the companies that sponsor him.
"Tiger has been part of Nike for more than a decade," Nike officials said in a statement released Friday night. "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."
Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent, said that it would be "premature and inappropriate" to discuss the status of Woods' specific sponsorship agreements.
"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."
On an NBC Dateline special Friday night titled "The Secret Life of Tiger Woods," alleged mistress Jamie Jungers described her relationship with Woods as "pretty wild," and said she did not believe she owed Woods' wife an apology.
"No, I don't," Jungers says. "I feel like that's his -- that's his business. Everybody makes mistakes. This wasn't something that I did yesterday or a month ago or a year ago. This was years ago. I was younger. And I'm not saying that what I did then was right. But -- I'm certainly not gonna say that it was wrong. . . . I don't believe that I owe her an apology. I'm sorry for everything that's going down."
According to TMZ.com, Woods' representatives in England obtained a court order that would prohibit the publication of any nude photos or videos of Woods, although his representatives did not say such items exist. Life & Style magazine has reported that Playgirl has received photographs whose owner claims they are of Tiger Woods naked. The publication has not said whether it plans to run them.