Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tiger and Stevie: Perfect fit in a now-imperfect world

   If you're keeping a ledger on the Tiger Woods saga, it became necessary Wednesday to add caddie Steve Williams' name to the cuts, departures, changes or whatever you want to call all the things that were once part of Tiger's world and are no longer.

   Add Williams to a list that includes Woods' former wife, Elin, his former swing coach Hank Haney, his former sponsors including Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gatorade, his former management company IMG, and now, his former caddie.

   Was it inevitable that Woods and Williams would part?

   Obviously, it was since Woods told Stevie two weeks ago that he could turn his part-time gig with Adam Scott into a full-time job. Williams said in a statement the move was "a shock" and later said in various interviews that he expected more from Woods given what he'd been forced to deal with as his employer embarrassed himself, and the endless aftermath that followed.

   Woods and Williams seemed a perfect fit. Williams was the tough guy on Tiger's bag, an enforcer of sorts who often had to play that role given the enormous attention Woods draws every time he steps onto a golf course. Williams wasn't concerned with winning friends, but about winning tournaments and doing his job properly.

   A player-caddie relationship can be a delicate thing. Some players churn through caddies, their personal quirks or insecurities rubbing against each other to add to the pressure that comes with playing the game for a living. Others find a partnership that goes on for years, like Phil Mickelson and Jim "Bones" Mackay or Fred Couples and Joe LaCava.

   Williams helped Woods through the years. He didn't hit the shots but he was there every step of the way, whether it was during the Tiger Slam or when he gave Woods a shoulder to cry on after winning the Open Championship following his father's death. Stevie had the authority to call Woods off a shot at the last second, an authority he used from time to time.

   Williams will be fine with Scott and, perhaps, happier to be out from under the umbrella of scrutiny that follows Wood wherever he goes.

   As for Woods himself, the questions remain. Who's next on his bag?

   The speculation immediately ran to Billy Foster, Lee Westwood's man, and LaCava, who's now working for Dustin Johnson. Given Woods' penchant for privacy, he's not likely to drop any public clues on his plans until they're announced on his website.

    Though he hasn't been able to play and there's no indication when he'll be back, the Tiger story continues to churn. Woods has kept to himself, offering only a glimpse or two such as his recent appearance at the AT&T National press conference.

   It has never been Woods' way to go public with what he's thinking beyond the basic "I'm here to win" golf tournament quotes. It's not his nature and that's not likely to change.

   For years, all the talk was about what Tiger had achieved. Now, it's about all he has lost.

   Until he returns and wins again -- something I believe he'll do because he will be incredibly driven to prove his detractors wrong -- that's not going to change.