At long last, Tiger turns the corner

They are simply words on a page. But these days, reading between the lines is more appropriate than reading the line of a putt.

Tiger Woods will not be doing any of the latter as he takes a leave of absence from professional golf to sort out his personal life. And that will be much easier after the statement he posted on his Web site Friday night, the fifth one since his life was turned upside down two weeks ago.

The one-car accident outside his Orlando home in the early-morning hours the day after Thanksgiving, followed by the incessant tabloid talk, has brought us to this point -- and none too soon.

Unlike Woods' Dec. 2 statement in which he apologized for "transgressions" -- without specifying what they were -- then used the opportunity to chastise others for invading his privacy, this one seemed more humane, more humble, more himself.

After the world has been subjected to repeated reports of extramarital activity, Woods used the word "infidelity" for the first time and said he needed time away from golf to "focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."

Most certainly, golf should be secondary now.

This was the smartest thing Woods has done since plowing his Escalade into a fire hydrant, which served to ignite this firestorm.

From a late response to his accident, to little or no details about his injuries, to withdrawing from his own golf tournament -- which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation -- to his chippy statement after a tabloid story about a 31-month affair, Woods was not faring too well in the arena of public opinion.

Various opinion polls had Woods' popularity plummeting, including one by a prominent research firm, Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which showed in a survey conducted Dec. 4-6 that 58 percent of those following the Woods story with some interest said they had become less favorable toward him. That poll was taken before numerous reports of marital infidelity surfaced.

The game of golf was taking a beating, too. The story was the elephant in the room at Woods' Chevron World Challenge last week in California, where somehow a golf tournament went on amid all the talk of scandal.

Greg Norman weighed in this week at his Shark Shootout in Florida. And John Daly in Australia. It has been the subject of late-night comedians and all manner of conjecture, including talk that Woods would take a big endorsement hit and that the PGA Tour would have trouble locking up sponsors.

The story isn't going away, but at least it is now on a path to … somewhere.

"I think this is the proper move," said PGA Tour player Steve Stricker from Naples, Fla., where he is playing in the Shark Shootout; Stricker partnered with Woods in October at the Presidents Cup. "I think it shows he wants to make things right. Golf is always going to be there. I think he's shown that he wants to make a better commitment to his family. Golf is always going to be there and waiting for him when he gets things in order."

Stricker said that he is among several of Woods' friends who tried to reach out to him since news of the accident broke Nov. 27. "I got nothing back … as well as other people who tried to get in touch with him, too."

Woods, 33, is the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. In 2009, he ran his PGA Tour victory total to 71 with six victories, and he is at 14 major championships for his career, four behind the hallowed record held by Jack Nicklaus.

All of that can wait, Stricker said.

"I'm hoping that he can straighten things out with his family life," Stricker said. "Nobody knows the situation between him and [wife] Elin. I hope and pray that they can work it out and move on -- if that's at all possible."

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem expressed similar sentiments in a statement, saying that the tour "fully supports" Woods' decision to step away from the game for now.

Who would have ever dreamed Finchem and the PGA Tour would be in favor of Tiger skipping tournaments?

Yet that is what this Tiger tale has come to, the game's best player benching himself for his own good.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.