Tiger taps the brakes on a runaway story

Caddie Steve Williams and Tiger Woods during the pro-am for the Australian Masters.

Caddie Steve Williams and Tiger Woods during the pro-am for the Australian Masters.

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Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

•••

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- As one might have expected, Tiger Woods took the high road Wednesday, deflecting questions about his former caddie, Steve Williams. The image-minded Woods chose not to reveal his feelings about Williams’ having called the victory Sunday with new boss Adam Scott the most satisfying and best win of his 33-year career as a bag man.

“Those are obviously his feelings and his emotions and his decision to say what he wants to say,” Woods said, adding he was surprised by the comments.

Williams’ expressed viewpoint was remarkable, considering he worked for Woods in 13 major-championship victories, some of them featuring wild and dramatic storylines. Right after the heat of battle at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, an emotional Williams in effect took a verbal jab at Woods, punctuated further when he said Woods ostensibly fired him with a “time to take a break” comment by telephone before an official dismissal in person days later.

Williams clearly was drunk with pride, hurt and bitterness when he spoke Sunday. He is a wonderful caddie who has positively impacted several top players, but on Sunday he projected ego and a lack of gratitude. Woods, as we know, is no saint, but he is the rainmaker who made Williams rich and famous.

The caddie, in effect, turned Woods into something of a sympathetic character, an improbable achievement, considering the past 20 months. He also detracted attention from Scott’s success.

Williams apologized Wednesday in a statement on his website, saying, “My emotions following Adam’s victory were running very high and at the time I felt like my emotions poured out and got the better of me. I apologize to my fellow caddies and professionals for failing to mention Adam’s outstanding performance. I would like to thank all those fans at Firestone who made this victory the most special of my career.”

The interesting thing about that is he didn’t apologize for his indirect bashing of Woods, the best man in his wedding. He did not express gratitude to someone who helped line his pockets with millions. Maybe someday he will, when time heals the wounds, but on Wednesday he stuck to the sentiment that Sunday’s victory was the top entry in his scrapbook.

Considering the lingering drama, what’s clear is the dismissal wasn’t handled as well as it could have been. One can conclude a seasoned human resources director would have fared better. Williams came away with hard feelings instead of a sense of acceptance, an indication that the message probably could have been delivered with a more sensitive approach.

That isn’t surprising because Woods hasn’t been the best relationship guy over the years, too often socially awkward and lacking a human touch, choosing aloofness over relating to people in an evolved manner. This appears to be the latest example, for a longtime partnership between two proud, successful men has dissolved into this.

The only advice Woods would seem to need at this point is his own, from 2010: Be a better person. After all, in the end, a person’s life ultimately is measured by the quality and quantity of his relationships.

As for this split, this collision of ego, a sensible take would seem to be: Woods didn’t handle it perfectly in private and, in turn, a dissatisfied Williams certainly didn’t react well publicly.

That said, Woods did fly back to the AT&T National from his Florida home July 3 to talk with Williams in person about the parting, Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said. Woods was at the tournament for host duties Tuesday and Wednesday, went home, then returned on Sunday. According to Williams, the former world No. 1 had told him by phone days earlier that it was time to take a break.

The he-said, she-said doesn’t end there. Woods said Wednesday that he sent Williams a congratulatory text after the victory Sunday. Williams, however, told a reporter Monday morning that he hadn’t heard from Woods.

Human interaction aside, a golfer certainly is entitled to use whichever caddie he wants. Last week, Woods said he was “comfortable” with the move despite their success and good times together. He reiterated that Wednesday, saying, “I’m at peace with it.”

The back story is the Woods camp didn’t like the idea of Williams caddieing for Scott in two tournaments while Woods was recovering from injury. Williams, unpaid during the hiatus, learned Woods wasn’t playing the U.S. Open after he arrived in the United States with his vacationing father-in-law from New Zealand. Williams got Woods’ permission via text message to work for Scott at the Open, but then the Woods camp had a change of heart, telling him it didn’t think working for Scott was a good idea.

By then, Williams already had told Scott that he’d loop for him. The final straw apparently came when Williams then caddied for Scott at the AT&T National without permission. It follows that Woods, according to insiders, cited Williams’ lack of loyalty when he officially fired him in person.

Loyalty, of course, cuts both ways. Yes, Woods’ career has enhanced Williams’ life greatly, but objection to a friend’s opportunity to earn a paycheck doesn’t seem like loyalty.

You can surmise that Woods’ dissent to Williams’ work for Scott was merely the last straw. Tensions apparently had been building. What we witnessed was an emotional release that revealed something about both men.

photo

Courtesy of Zach Klein, WSB Atlanta

Tiger Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, chats with Woods' former caddie, Steve Williams, on Tuesday at Atlanta Athletic Club.

• Williams and Steinberg were photographed talking here at the Atlanta Athletic Club. At least one website offered a photo-caption contest.

Here’s my entry:

Caddie to agent: “Steiny, take a good look at the images in this crazy photograph they’re taking of us right now. There’s a fire hydrant on the left. There’s a tree in the background. There’s an SUV over there, too. The only things missing are Tiger and Elin, and they’re not getting together for a photo op any time soon.”

• When asked his realistic expectation for this week’s PGA Championship, a rusty but hopeful Woods said, “A ‘W’.”

He did not say WD.

Hey, he’s healthy again.

• Woods needs to finish about 14th or better this week to crack the top 125 in season points and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, according to the PGA Tour. Given his three months of inactivity and his inconsistency last week when he ranked last in driving accuracy, that might be too much to ask.

Even for someone with 14-major talent and 24-carat belief.

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