Tiger Woods’ decision to take “an indefinite break” to repair his marriage was greeted with surprise, bemusement and even relief Saturday as golfers, fans and commentators contemplated the immediate future of a sport without its biggest draw.
John Daly sympathized as the worldwide media continued to pile up accusations of infidelity, Annika Sorenstam lamented a family tragedy and Colin Montgomerie noted dryly that golf’s big prizes just became a little more accessible.
These are tumultuous times for golf after Friday’s announcement by its No. 1 player that he is taking time out following two weeks of allegations of extramarital affairs. Woods and his wife, Elin, have been married five years and have a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.
“There was an aura, and that wall, if you like, has been split slightly,” said Montgomerie, Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup captain. “There are cracks, and I feel that it gives us more opportunity of winning these big events now.”
Next year could have been one of the biggest in Woods’ career, with three of the four majors played at courses on which he has triumphed by large margins.
Instead, golf is preparing for another spell without its biggest superstar. Woods’ absence from the PGA Tour for much of last season because of reconstructive knee surgery led to a drop in television ratings of 50 percent.
“Indefinite is a scary word,” former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said. “That’s not good for us. But I’m sure he’ll get it worked out.”
Woods so far seems intent on doing so without help from his fellow professionals.
“He just didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Daly said at the Australian PGA on Saturday. “I’m in shock over it all, a lot of our players are in shock. I’m not happy with the way some of our players have responded—that’s their way of getting back because they know they can’t beat him at golf.
“They always say there is no one bigger in golf than the game itself. But Tiger is.”
Craig Parry was finishing his third round at the Australian PGA when he heard about Woods’ decision to step aside.
A friend of Woods who lives nearby in Windermere, Fla., Parry played alongside him for the first two rounds of last month’s Australian Masters in Melbourne—Woods’ final tournament before his car crash and subsequent accusations of infidelity.
“What he did was totally wrong,” Parry said. “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.”
And in the newspapers, Saturday brought a fresh round of headlines all over the world.
Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport featured a cartoon showing a golf bag containing six bare female legs in high heels and two clubs.
German tabloid Bild continued to print salacious details of the scandal, but added on its Web site that it hoped “Tiger is as successful as on the golf course” as he tries to repair his marriage.
“For years to come he will be a figure of fun to comedians great and small,” said Peter Allis, the BBC’s chief golf commentator for more than 30 years. “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.”
Although Michelle Wie refused to comment at the Dubai Ladies Masters on what she said was a private matter for Woods, former top-ranked LPGA star Sorenstam told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet she was saddened by the news.
“I think this whole thing is tragic,” she said. “We used to train together, but both myself and Tiger have been very busy lately and therefore haven’t seen, or heard from each other as frequently.”
Daly, who has been married four times, cautioned Woods and his wife, Elin, to remain together for the right reason. He said Woods should consider a television interview to limit damage to his image.
“If I was him, I’d go to Oprah, I would get on her show, tell the truth and it doesn’t matter what the media say any more, because it’s all out in the open,” Daly said.
Veteran British publicist Max Clifford agreed.
“Hopefully he can go on something like Oprah, maybe even with his wife, to show that they’re making a real go of it,” Clifford said. “The clever move would be for him to say, ‘I’m coming back when Elin tells me the time is right.”’
For now, Woods is communicating publicly only through carefully worded statements on his Web site.
Earlier this year, he became the first athlete to surpass $1 billion in career earnings, according to Forbes magazine. His sponsors include Nike, Gillette, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer.
Nike, which signed a multiyear contract with Woods in 2006, is standing by the player.
“He is the best golfer in the world and one of the greatest athletes of his era,” Nike spokeswoman Beth Gast said in a statement. “We look forward to his return to golf. He and his family have Nike’s full support.”
And it isn’t just golfers who are thinking about Woods.
“One thing people don’t understand is that we’re human,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said in Miami. “You’re not born with a menu on how not to do things wrong. You’re going to make mistakes like every human being. It’s just unfortunate that you’re in the public eye so much and a lot of people get hurt by it.”
Bobcats forward Stephen Jackson wished Woods the best.
“Sometimes you just got to take time out to reflect on what’s more important, and that’s family,” he said after Charlotte’s 104-85 loss in San Antonio.
AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa in Coolum, Australia, AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome, AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami and Associated Press Writer Paul J. Weber in San Antonio contributed to this report.
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