Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams made a formidable partnership -- 72 wins, including 13 majors, over 12 years -- but with players and caddies, loyalty is a one-way street. "Needless to say," Williams said, "this came as a shock."
Well, yes and no. With Woods having turned everything else in his life upside-down and inside-out, why not go back to one of the oldest tricks in the PGA Tour playbook and blame/fire the caddie? Assuming Woods will win again (he is only 35) and is thus a coveted boss to have, fans and even betting parlors have commenced speculation about the identity of Tiger's next caddie.
Herewith, a list of the contenders in order of their fitness for the job, in one writer's opinion:
1. John Wood
Hunter Mahan's caddie has a good bag already, but he'd probably enjoy the challenge of helping Woods reboot. Wood, who played golf for Cal, is still a decent stick, crazy long off the tee and only about five years older than Tiger. That's important because Woods could use a friend in addition to a guy who knows the ins and outs of the job. (See: Wood's clutch intervention on the 72nd hole of Mahan's first W at Hartford a few years back.)
2. Fanny Sunesson
Few know the business better than Fanny, whose work with Nick Faldo proved she can handle anyone. She'd probably be willing to make the leap to Woods after a down couple of years with F.O.T. (Friend of Tiger) Henrik Stenson. A woman caddie would be new for Woods, but if anyone needs to start seeing women in a different way, it's Tiger. Even he knows it. Probably.
3. Tony Navarro
Loose lips sink ships, and few caddies are more discreet than Navarro, who worked for Greg Norman and, most recently, Adam Scott. With Scott having hired Williams after splitting from Navarro, this would be a straight one-for-one swap. Bonus points: Navarro isn't afraid to throw down when fans cross the line. He scuffled with an over-served father and son at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. (Not a bad week for Tiger, if memory serves.)
4. Paul Tesori
The well-respected Tesori paid his dues with Vijay Singh and had a fruitful run with Sean O'Hair. Now with Webb Simpson, Tesori might also be willing to make the leap to a fragile-looking Team Tiger. Like Wood, Tesori is close enough in age to Woods to connect as a friend.
5. Colin Byrne
The longtime bagman for Retief Goosen is on the market again after a brief stint with Edoardo Molinari, but given Tiger's disdain for the Fourth Estate, Byrne's long-running newspaper column back in Ireland could be a deal-breaker.
6. Pete Bender
Most recently Aaron Baddeley's caddie, Bender has worked for them all and knows tour courses as well as anyone (probably better than anyone). The consummate pro, he may be too emblematic of a bygone era to suit Tiger's tastes. Then again, Fluff Cowan's been around forever, too.
7. Fluff Cowan
Hey, we're gettin' the band back together! Okay, maybe not. Woods probably won't hire his first pro caddie away from Jim Furyk, or re-hire his first agent, Hughes Norton, but is it impossible? No.
8. Bill Foster
He caddied for Woods at the 2005 Presidents Cup, but is Foster brave (crazy?) enough to leave Lee Westwood in his prime? Doubtful.
9. J.P. Fitzgerald
He works for 22-year-old wunderkind Rory McIlroy, which means Fitzgerald won't be going anywhere if he can possibly help it. Why the oddsmakers even have him on the board is a mystery.
10. Joe LaCava
See above, only insert "Dustin Johnson" for McIlroy.
11. Byron Bell
Before he hired La Cava, Dustin Johnson took hits for keeping a friend instead of a seasoned pro on the bag. Were Tiger to make the same move with his longtime pal Bell, it would invite critics to question his commitment. Tiger doesn't like that.
UPDATE (8/14/2011): Australian caddie Shane Joel has emerged as the favorite for the Tiger job. Joel has caddied for Tiger's pal Mark O'Meara for the last seven years, and O'Meara has said that he doesn't mind if Joel decides to work with Tiger. Asked at the PGA Championship last week about the possibility of hiring Joel, Woods didn't rule it out. "There's nobody I've committed to, but Mark was nice enough to talk to me about it and said that Shane is available if I so choose," Woods said.