Tiger Woods hasn’t been Tiger Woods lately, but nobody else has, either. The media vortex, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Which is why, in the absence of Tiger winning anything, we’ve latched onto the curious case of Tiger’s “winning” ex-caddie and rendered it Breaking News.
You know the story: Tiger fired Steve Williams, the caddie nobody much liked, and then Williams carried Adam Scott’s clubs as the player was winning last week’s Bridgestone Invitational. This prompted the bag-toter to go on TV and call it “the most satisfying win” of his career, which would have been akin to Yogi Berra shoving aside Don Larsen to proclaim what happened in the 1956 World Series “the greatest game I’ve ever caught.”
This week brings the PGA Championship in Johns Creek, and Woods briefed the assembled media Wednesday while working hard to say nothing about his ex-valet. But Tiger remains so measured in his words (if not his personal life) that what little he said resonated.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Tiger is ticked. (More than a few other golfers aren’t happy with Williams, either, and the toter himself made use of his website — that’s correct; a caddie has a website — to apologize Wednesday “for failing to mention Adam’s outstanding performance.”) Tiger Woods made Steve Williams so famous that people actually know who Steve Williams is, and now the valet scorned is using his improbable pulpit to crow.
Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, was seen speaking with Williams on Tuesday at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Asked about this, Woods said: “They talked, yeah. You’re right.” He didn’t say what was discussed. Three guesses, huh?
Woods admitted he sent Williams a congratulatory message last Sunday. (”A nice text,” Tiger said.) He also revealed the two had spoken since the the caddie trumpeted his famous “victory” but maintained, “That’s between Stevie [note the use of the diminutive] and myself.”
There was a time when a ticked Tiger would have stormed out and stacked two dozen birdies on a golf course’s noggin, but nobody’s sure if this Tiger — aged 35, coming off an infamous divorce and recovering from a bum knee and a sore Achilles, a winner of no majors since 2008 — is capable of putting his golf sticks where his snarl is.
Someone asked what his expectation for the PGA was. “A ‘W,’ ” Tiger said. Then, smiling: “Want me to elaborate? A nice ‘W.’ ”
Earlier, Rory McIlroy had offered his impression of the latter-day Tiger Woods. “He’s still the biggest attraction in the game, so that hasn’t changed,” said McIlroy, who led the Masters after three rounds and who won the U.S. Open going away. “The only thing that’s changed is that he just isn’t winning as much as he did back then.”
Then: “But that’s not to say that he won’t do it again. I don’t think it’s quite a new era yet until other guys start to win majors regularly like he did.”
And that’s the issue, not just with Tiger but with golf. Everyone’s wondering: If not Tiger, who? But there’s also an accompanying question: Are we absolutely sure it won’t be Tiger?
Speaking obliquely of the storm over Stevie, Tiger said: “All I can control is my life and how I feel.” For what it’s worth, he said he felt great physically, that he can walk a course without “having to block out pain.”
Realistically, you wouldn’t expect him to get his ‘W’ this weekend. He has played only one full tournament, that coming last week, since the Masters. But there were long moments Sunday at Augusta National when Tiger seemed destined to win the thing. (He finished fourth.) He might not have played like Tiger Woods in a while, but he’s still the only Tiger Woods in this or any field.
Tiger was asked Wednesday if, growing up, he pulled for underdogs or preferred seeing the big names win. To no one’s surprise, he said he was a fan of dynasties — Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, Michael’s Bulls, Jeter’s Yankees. It’s possible the reign of the world’s only dynastic golfer is nearing its end, but the guess here is that Tiger Woods has a few majors left in his tank. The guess is that he’ll be winning long after we’ve forgotten whatever it was that Stevie Williams, whoever he is, happened to say.
By Mark Bradley