Woods defuses caddie controversy
Tiger Woods could’ve hung Steve Williams out to dry.
He could’ve pulled out a violin and said how hurt he’d been by his estranged caddie’s clumsy remarks about wanting to shove Adam Scott’s victory at the Bridgestone Invitational “up (Woods’) black a**hole.”
And if he had, Williams, who is still bitter at being fired by Woods in July, would’ve faced an even more uncertain future as the blowtorch would’ve again been applied on Scott to sack his bagman.
Instead, Woods, who was “surprised and hurt” by Williams’ comment, according to a source close to him, chose to take the high road.
On Tuesday at the Australian Open, he hosed down the hysteria over the ill-considered remarks by declaring that his former caddie, who is part Maori, isn’t a racist.
“No, Stevie’s certainly not a racist, there’s no doubt about that,” Woods said. “I think it was a comment that shouldn’t have been made and was certainly one that he wished he didn’t make.”
Despite breathless reports about how organizers of the Australian Open would move mountains to keep the two men apart, it took just minutes for them to run into each other in Sydney.
Woods walked into the gym at his harborside hotel and there was Williams.
“We talked this morning, we met face to face and talked about it, talked it through,” Woods said. “He did apologize. It was hurtful, certainly, but life goes forward.”
The two finished the conversation by shaking hands, Woods said.
Williams later told me he didn’t want to say any more, though it’s clear he feels he’s been treated unfairly. He appeared on a radio station in his native New Zealand protesting that his comment, made at a supposedly off-the-record caddies dinner held on Friday night in Shanghai, had been “blown out of all proportion.”
"It was kind of like a locker room environment; everyone was having a good time,” he said.
“My comments were by no means the worst that were passed. There were a lot of profanities and other kinds of remarks, but just because I make a remark regarding my former employer it gets blown out of all proportion. It's absolutely ridiculous.
“You make one comment in a room, having a bit of fun, how does that make you a racist? It's making a mountain out of a molehill and I'm not worried about it one bit.
“We live in a country that is a multicultural society. I don't think you can say anyone in New Zealand is racist. We live in a Maori culture which is a great culture and a there's a lot of island culture. That's so far offbeat it's a joke.”
It’s not the first time Woods has been in the middle of a racial incident. In 1997, after he rewrote the record books in winning the Masters, Fuzzy Zoeller sparked a controversy by calling Woods “that little boy,” then advising that they shouldn’t serve “fried chicken . . . or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” at the next year’s champions dinner.
Zoeller, who grew up in southern Indiana, said he was trying to be funny. The joke fell flat. He apologized but Woods left him twisting in the wind, taking days to accept the apology. By then, the damage had been done. Zoeller lost two major sponsors, K-Mart and Dunlop, and in many ways his public image never recovered.
In 2008, Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman, who appears as an announcer on Woods’ golf video games, ignited another racial controversy by saying that young players wanting to unseat Woods at the top of the sport needed to “lynch him in a back alley.”
Woods came to her defense immediately. His agent, Mark Steinberg, called the story a “non-issue,” saving Tilghman’s career.
He didn’t have to help Williams on Tuesday, but, in truth, it probably served him well to do so.
Approaching the second anniversary of his last victory — coincidentally, in Australia — Woods is desperate to return the conversation about him to golf, where it hasn’t been since his life was engulfed by a tabloid scandal.
It would help if Williams stops taking shots at him.
“I don’t know,” Woods said when asked why such acrimony exists between two men who were so close for 12 years, winning 13 majors together.
“For me, personally, it was a tough decision to make to go in a different direction in my professional life (and fire Williams), but as far as personally, I don’t know how that could have happened to the way it did.”
He did, for the first time, concede that one factor in the firing was Williams’ decision to caddie for Scott at the US Open and AT&T National tournaments while Woods was recovering from injury.
“I wasn’t playing, I was injured and I was trying to come back, but I missed most of the major championships and he didn’t want to miss them, which is understandable,” Woods said.
“I wish I could’ve played in them, too.”
Does he foresee a time when the two can again be friends?
“Time does heal wounds,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”