FEARS that bad feeling between Tiger Woods and former caddie Steve Williams could spill over at the Australian Open were revived yesterday when they were allotted to consecutive playing groups for the tournament.
Organisers had promised to keep the men apart at this week’s event, after Williams sparked outrage and was forced to apologise for using a racial slur to refer to Woods, whose bags he carried for 13 years.
But they will only be a long tee shot’s distance away from each other, with Woods in the headline group with Jason Day and Robert Allenby that follows immediately after that of Adam Scott, Williams’ new employer.
Williams drew worldwide condemnation last week when he described his joy at Scott’s victory over Woods earlier this year as his chance “to shove it up that black a***hole”.
European and PGA Tour chiefs expressed their disapproval but, following a public apology from Williams, announced they would not be issuing any punishment.
Woods adopted a conciliatory tone this week ahead of the tournament, saying he had accepted his former caddie’s apology after a meeting and insisting: “Stevie is certainly not a racist – there’s no doubt about that.”
But he revealed the controversial remarks had been “hurtful”, adding: “Obviously it was the wrong thing to say. Time does heal wounds and we’ll see how that goes.” Woods was cool in his reaction to the governing bodies’ decision not to impose sanctions on Williams.
“I don’t make policy, I’m not part of the governing bodies and it’s up to them,” he said. “I believe they’ve released a statement but it’s up to them to make sanctions or whatever on that subject.”
Williams, who caddied for Woods on 13 of the American’s 14 Major victories, was critical of the former world No1 after they parted company in the summer.
The split came after Woods returned to the circuit from a lengthy absence following intense public scrutiny of his private life and the break-up of his marriage.
Scott resisted pressure to ditch Williams amid the furore that followed his comments about Woods, made at a caddies’ dinner in Shanghai on Friday.
The Australian will play in a group with countryman John Senden and American Matt Kuchar when the event commences tomorrow.