It was a rumor that blew in the winds at last week’s British Open — that caddie Steve Williams had been fired by Tiger Woods.
Early Wednesday, rumor became fact when Woods posted the news on his website, confirming that Williams no longer was his caddie.
Considering that they’ve been together since March 1999 and that Woods had won 13 of his 14 majors with Williams on the bag, the news appeared to be a shocker. But on closer examination, is it? After all, consider all that used to be in Woods’ world but is no longer — his wife, Elin; his swing coach, Hank Haney; his management company, IMG; his aura; his sponsors such as Gatorade, Gillette, Accenture, and Tag Heuer; and, oh, yeah: his incomparable victory parade.
That has been missing from Woods’ world since the 2009 Australian Masters, which was a few weeks before a Thanksgiving celebration that included an accident with a hydrant, which ignited an unfathomable fall that has led to so many changes in the man’s universe, the latest being Williams’ firing.
On their websites, Woods announced and Williams reacted.
Woods: “I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change. Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future."
Williams: “After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger’s scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.”
If Woods were trying to make it sound like an amicable split, Williams’ statement dashed that. According to sources, it’s more likely Williams’ sentiment is a better barometer of the situation, that it was a “shock” and was not an amicable break-up.
According to these sources, the Woods-Williams partnership — once so prodigious — has been uncomfortable for months, with the player not letting his caddie in on health updates and scheduling plans as he had always done. When Woods announced after the Masters that he had hurt his knee and was taking some time off, Williams returned to New Zealand, only to be summoned when the boss made a late decision to play in The Players Championship.
It turned out to be a long trip for naught, because Woods played nine holes and withdrew after shooting 6-over 42 and complaining of pain in his oft-injured left leg. Williams returned to New Zealand, but was on his way to the US a few weeks later for the US Open when Woods announced he would not play in that major championship. Williams reportedly was unhappy with that development, so when he got a chance to caddie for Adam Scott, he jumped at it — though he first asked Woods.
According to the source, Woods said yes, perhaps reluctantly, because at the prompting of his management team, there was a change of heart. According to a source, Williams was told that it wasn’t a good idea, but the caddie said he already had given his word, so he worked the US Open where Scott missed the cut.
Two weeks later, Williams again worked for Scott at the AT&T National, only this time he reportedly didn’t ask for Woods’ permission. On the Sunday of the AT&T (Scott finished tied for third), Woods reportedly fired Williams in a closed-door meeting, using words such as “disloyal” and “overcaddieing,” according to a source.
Asked by a reporter at the British Open, where he again caddied for Scott (T-25), whether he had been fired by Woods, Williams seemed incredulous and said, “Why would you ask a question like that?”
But one source said Williams knew at the British Open that he had been relieved of his duties by Woods, but an agreement had been reached whereby the news wouldn’t be made public until after the major. That way, Scott would be spared intense media scrutiny.
Of course, that only delays the inevitable, because Williams announced on his website that he has agreed to join Scott fulltime. Expect the questions to come fast and furious in a few weeks when Scott tees it up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (Aug. 4-7).
As for Woods, who knows? He’s still sidelined with left leg woes (Achilles’ tendon, knee) and hasn’t played since those nine holes at TPC Sawgrass more than two months ago. He is committed to an Aug. 31 charity golf tournament hosted by his friend, Notah Begay III, but he’s made no announcement as to when he’ll tee it up again in competition.
When he does, he’ll surely have a new caddie, though the guess is it will be a familiar face. Woods is known to covet Joe LaCava, Fred Couples’ longtime caddie who just recently hooked onto Dustin Johnson’s bag. At the 2005 Presidents Cup, with Williams back in New Zealand for the birth of his first child, Woods chose LaCava, but that plan fizzled when Couples made the team as a captain’s pick. Woods then went with Billy Foster, arguably one of the top caddies in Europe, who at the time was working for Darren Clarke, a close friend of Woods’.
LaCava would seemingly be Woods’ No. 1 pick now, but it would require a lucrative financial package to lure him away from Johnson, a pure thoroughbred who has won four times and seems to be on the threshold of major stardom. (He’s been in the final pairing in three of the last six major championships.)
Foster would be on Woods’ short list, but the situation is similar to LaCava’s with Johnson. That is, Foster works for Lee Westwood, the world’s No. 2 and a guy who seemingly is in the hunt every time he enters.
Then there’s Tony Navarro, who was Scott’s caddie for years until being let go after The Players Championship. He since has hooked on with Angel Cabrera, but no one would deny that the chance to work for Woods — whenever he decides to go back to work — would be more than enticing. Navarro caddied for years for Greg Norman and is considered a blue-chipper.
He also could go the safe route and bring aboard Bryon Bell, a longtime friend who has been involved in Woods’ design company. But Bell’s name was dragged into the sex scandal as someone who helped make travel plans for Rachel Uchitel, one of Woods’ mistresses, to Australia and that seemingly could touch off more controversy than Woods wants.
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