Commentary

Tiger-Williams couldn't overcome scars

Originally Published: August 2, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio -- Who knew the divorce between Tiger Woods and Steve Williams would be messier than eating spaghetti with your fingers? Or more public than the split between TW and his now ex-wife?

But after 12 years of golf marriage, Woods and Williams arrived here at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational as a non-couple. Irreconcilable differences did them in.

This will be Woods' first tournament appearance since mid-May, when he limped off the TPC Sawgrass course after a front-nine 42 in the Players Championship. Williams didn't know it at the time, but those would be the last nine holes on which he would carry Woods' bag.

Williams was canned about a month ago in the boardroom of the Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia. The dismissal stayed a secret until word seeped out shortly after the Open Championship. Woods and Williams made it official on their respective websites.

"And it was a tough conversation, but we said what we needed to say to each other face-to-face and man-to-man," said Woods during his Tuesday morning news conference at Firestone Country Club.

They were more than golfer-employee. They were groomsmen at each other's wedding. They were close friends … mates. Woods had literally cried on Williams' shoulder after tournament wins.

And now they are past tense.

"Well, I thought it was time for a change," Woods said. "I felt that Stevie and I have had just an amazing run. Steve is a hell of a caddie; there's no denying that. He's helped my career, and I think I've helped his as well. We've had a great partnership for 12 years, maybe a little bit more than that, won a bunch of tournaments. But I just felt it was time to change things up a little bit. I felt very comfortable with the move."

A little bit? Replacing a head cover on your 3-wood is a little bit of a change. Replacing a caddie -- especially someone who has been velcro'd to your game for 13 of your 14 major championships, 63 PGA Tour wins and about $87 million in prize money -- is a seismic event.

Williams wasn't thrilled. He questioned Woods' loyalty. He questioned Woods' morals. He questioned the timing of the firing.

"You could say I've wasted the last two years of my life," Williams told Television New Zealand.

Woods' reaction Tuesday?

"Well, that's what he says and what he feels," Woods said.

The chances of Woods publicly napalming Williams were the same as him showing up in Akron with muttonchop sideburns. Wasn't going to happen.

But when Woods says he felt "very comfortable" with the pink-slip decision, you can read between the TW-Stevie lines. One way or another, they were finished. It would have been cleaner had Woods canned him at year's end, but he didn't, and the timing actually helped turn Williams into a sympathetic figure.

Woods isn't especially interested in public opinion. He could have waited and taken less heat, but why delay the inevitable? To him, there wasn't any difference between ending it now or ending it in December.

Anyway, the fallout from Woods' sex scandal was the beginning of the end of the Tiger/Stevie relationship. It's that simple. There was too much scar tissue, too much history to overcome.

[+] EnlargeTiger & Bell
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesTiger Woods and new caddie Bryon Bell were on the course Tuesday at Firestone Country Club. Bell has caddied for Woods before, including a victory at the 1999 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.

Williams' request to work Adam Scott's bag as Tiger rehabbed wasn't a betrayal. Not even close. But it was a sign, a significant one, that there was a growing distance between the two longtime friends. In the end, it wasn't the reason Woods fired Williams, but it was one of them.

It will be strange for both Woods and Williams this week. It has to be. You don't work and travel together, win championships together, endure the professional and personal wars together for a dozen years -- and then just pretend none of it mattered.

By the most conservative calculations, Woods put, what, at least $5 million into Williams' pocket over the years? He made Williams rich and famous. Without Tiger, Williams never gets all those goose-bump walks up the 18th fairways. And I guarantee you, no one would read a Williams tell-all-book on Y.E. Yang.

They both benefited from the relationship. The sometimes bullying, overprotective Williams and the often stubborn, hyper-intense Woods were an intimidating force. But if Woods could fire Butch Harmon and part ways with Hank Haney, he certainly could jettison Williams.

Woods' personal transgressions are meticulously documented. And because of those transgressions, Williams felt his own reputation was compromised. And it likely was -- guilt by association.

But Williams had his own series of golf-related meltdowns. Camera throws. Phil Mickelson verbal digs. They paled in comparison to Woods' mistakes, but that didn't stop some people from wondering why Tiger kept him.

Here's why: He was Tiger's Doberman, and Woods stood by him.

There is no marriage counseling for a player and caddie. It just ends one day. That's what happened to Woods and Williams.

On his website, Williams now has a photo of him and Scott working together. It's a full-time gig.

Meanwhile, Woods is using boyhood buddy Bryon Bell on his bag. Bell has caddied for Woods in the past, dating to Tiger's amateur days. But it isn't a permanent arrangement.

"No, no," said Woods, dismissing the idea. "Have you seen his legs?"

Bell could be out of a job by next week's PGA Championship. Woods is looking, and other caddies have made inquiries. They don't seem to care that Tiger hasn't won since November 2009 at the Australian Masters.

"How many?" he said of the applicants. "I hear there's been a few."

Can you blame them? Being on Tiger's bag when he wins again would be like managing the Chicago Cubs to a World Series.

Williams was supposed to be that guy. But now he's part of the growing list of Tiger exes. It will be a quieter, saner and less controversial caddie life.

I already miss them.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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