Tiger Woods says he will take "an indefinite break from professional golf" to cope with the ongoing fallout caused by "my infidelity."
"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," he wrote late Friday on his official Web site. "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 announcement came after new reports from both sides of the Atlantic claimed the golfer paid for sex with prostitutes and that Woods and wife Elin Nordegren are considering an escape to Sweden to plan their next move.
Woods' use of the word "infidelity" apparently amounts to his first public admission that he was unfaithful to his wife amid claims by multiple women, in the weeks since his Nov. 27 auto accident, that they had affairs with him.
"After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," Woods wrote. "I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person.
"Again," he added, "I ask for privacy for my family and I am especially grateful for all those who have offered compassion and concern during this difficult period."
Neither Woods' statement nor a subsequent one by his agent, Mark Steinberg, offered a timetable for Woods' return to golf.
"As his agent and friend, I stand fully behind Tiger and support his decision wholeheartedly," Steinberg wrote. "What Tiger and his family need now is time away and private space so that they can recover from all that's happened and try to restore some well-being to their lives.
"The entirety of someone's life is more important than just a professional career," Steinberg added. "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."
While he said he was stepping back from golf for personal reasons, Woods acknowledged his decision would resonate well beyond his family. He asked his associates "including my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA Tour, and my fellow competitors, for their understanding."
Initially, it seemed, he was getting his wish.
The PGA Tour said that it supported the decision by its biggest star, according to The Associated Press. The prepared statement was the PGA's first public comment since Woods mentioned his "personal failings" on the Web Dec. 2.
"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. "We look forward to Tiger's return to the PGA Tour when he determines the time is right for him."
Companies associated with Woods also endorsed the decision.
Nike spokeswoman Beth Gast said, "Tiger has been part of Nike for more than a decade. 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."
However, AT&T, another company for which Woods does endorsements, reserved judgment on future dealings.
"We support Tiger's decision and our thoughts will be with him and his family," the statement said. "We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with him."
The Woods team has been in touch with Woods' sponsors as the scandal has swirled around him, Steinberg said.
"Although there has been considerable inquiry about Tiger's sponsorships, it would be both premature and inappropriate to comment on the status of specific business relationships," Steinberg wrote. "Suffice it to say, we have had thoughtful conversations and his sponsors have been open to a solution-oriented dialogue. Of course, each sponsor has unique considerations and ultimately, the decisions they make we would fully understand and accept."
In his statement Friday, Woods did not comment on reports that he and Nordegren, who is Swedish, might travel to Sweden to hash out their problems.
Swedish newspapers last week confirmed that Nordegren had purchased a $2 million home on an island off Stockholm, reachable only by boat.
"Tiger is going to Sweden with his wife, and they want to leave as soon as possible," a close friend of Nordegren's told ABCNews.com -- though subsequent reports suggested the trip to Sweden is not a certainty.
Whether the couple will seek a divorce remains a question.
People magazine and several Swedish papers have reported that Nordegren will not seek a divorce, but the friend told ABC News that Nordegren is waiting until all the allegations of infidelity come out.
Another friend told People magazine, "She's a child of divorce, and that's not something she's likely going to want to do. She really believes in the importance of parents staying together."
The friend who spoke to ABC News.com said, "[Elin's] not rushing to divorce. ... She's going to take her sweet time. She wants all the dirty laundry to be out on the table before she signs anything."
That pile of dirty laundry grew Friday amid allegations from Hollywood madam Michelle Braun that she arranged meetings with Woods and at least four prostitutes from 2006 to 2007 for a total cost of $60,000, according to the New York Post.
"Tiger has been one of Michelle's clients for years," private investigator Dan Hanks, who worked for Braun, checking her clients' backgrounds, told ABCNews.com.
Hanks, who had access to Braun's client list and spoke with Braun earlier this week about Woods, said he knew of an occasion in which Woods hired three prostitutes at one time for an evening in Las Vegas.
Nordegren was totally blindsided by accusations that Woods carried on affairs with as many as a dozen women, her friend said.
"Elin had absolutely no idea whatsoever that there were any mistresses until very recently," she said.
"Tiger was always traveling, but [Nordegren] had too much to do taking care of their family, properties, travel and finances to babysit her husband. Of course, she had enormous amounts of help, but she likes to be hands on. She trusted her husband as he traveled the world.
"The things he did were so immature that it wouldn't have crossed her mind that that's what he was doing," the friend said. "Staying out all night with these party girls in Vegas? She can't believe it. If they went backwards in time, she wouldn't change a thing about what she did. It would never occur to her that he'd be doing all of these terrible things with her and the babies at home."
Nordegren and Woods married in 2004. Together they have a daughter Sam, 2, and a son Charlie, 10 months.
Nordegren's parents divorced when she was 6. Her mother, Barbo Holmberg, a Swedish politician, has been in the United States, staying with her daughter at the Windermere, Fla., home owned by Woods.
Holmberg was rushed to a local hospital after collapsing in the house Tuesday.
Her mother has been a source of support, Nordegren's friend said.
"Tiger and Elin are not doing any couples counseling at this time," she said. "But Elin is seeing someone to give her the strength to deal with all of this. And her mother has been a huge help. Last week, she was furious. But this week, Elin has too much to do."
A call to Woods' lawyer Mark NeJame for comment was not returned.