/ 13 December 2009

Golf world reels as Woods takes ‘indefinite break’

After a slew of sex scandals forced celebrity golfer Tiger Woods to announce an indefinite break from the game, the star faces unease among the very sponsors who helped make him a billionaire.

Woods stunned the golf world on Friday by announcing a hiatus in professional play and admitting, for the first time, to being unfaithful to his wife.

His announcement prompted a slew of statements of support from colleagues, but more tepid backing from some of his powerhouse sponsors, which include Nike, Gillette, Accenture, AT&T and Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer.

Woods’s squeaky clean image — much sought after by advertisers — has been decimated in recent weeks by a string of alleged affairs with women ranging from a porn star, to a cocktail waitress, to a Las Vegas club manager.

Gillette, which makes razors and other personal care products, said in a statement on Saturday that ”as Tiger takes a break from the public eye, we will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs”.

AT&T, sponsor of Woods’s Washington-based PGA tour event, meanwhile said: ”We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with him.”

In the wake of the scandal, sports drink-makers Gatorade had already reiterated that it was halting its ”Tiger”-inspired line.

And consulting firm Accenture has since removed an image of Woods from its website.

But he got firmer backing from Nike. ”Tiger has been part of Nike for more than a decade,” it said. ”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.”

Woods on Friday expressed his regret at the scandal.

”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,” the married father of two said in a statement on his website.

”I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness.

”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.”

Ten women have been romantically linked to the billionaire golfer, whose private life has come under the glare of public scrutiny since he crashed his car in late November.

Woods was taken to hospital on November 27 after hitting a fire hydrant and a tree, two days after a tabloid reported he was having an affair with New York club hostess Rachel Uchitel. Uchitel has publicly denied the affair.

The crash prompted cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs (24) to come forward with a voicemail as evidence of an alleged 31-month relationship. The recording features a man, who sounds like Woods, asking Grubbs to destroy evidence that might link the two.

”It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try,” Woods said in the statement.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem threw his support behind Woods, who has not been seen in public for two weeks, vowing not to rush the 33-year-old into returning to the sport.

”We look forward to Tiger’s return to the PGA Tour when he determines the time is right for him,” he said in a statement.

Woods’s absence is likely to be a major blow to the tour, as it heads to the first Major of the season in April. Last year, the number one seed spent eight months recovering from knee surgery, prompting television ratings to halve.

Aged just 25, Woods became the first man to win the US Open, the British Open, the USPGA and the Masters on a roll to make him the first simultaneous holder of all four Major championship titles at the same time.

The media promptly dubbed the achievement the ”Tiger Slam”, as opposed to a Grand Slam given that the wins straddled 2000 and part of 2001.

In 2002, he emulated Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus in winning back-to-back Masters tournaments.

In the face of the scandal, World number three Steve Stricker remained supportive.

”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.” — AFP