THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Tiger Woods’ caddie said Monday night he regrets his disparaging comment about Phil Mickelson at a charity dinner, saying he was making light of the Ryder Cup and his dislike for him.
“I don’t deny that him and I don’t get along,” Steve Williams told The Associated Press from his home in New Zealand. “I shouldn’t have said it, but no harm was meant. I was just having some fun.”
Williams was quoted in the Taranaki Daily News as saying he wouldn’t call Mickelson a great player “because I think he’s a (expletive).” In an interview the next day with another New Zealand newspaper, the Sunday Star Times, Williams confirmed making the comment and said it was no secret they don’t get along.
Woods criticized his caddie and said he would handle it privately.
“I was disappointed to read the comments attributed to Steve Williams about Phil Mickelson, a player that I respect,” Woods said in a statement. “It was inappropriate. The matter has been discussed and dealt with.”
Mickelson’s management company issued a statement Sunday evening to respond to what it called “grossly inaccurate and irresponsible statements” by Williams. It included a comment from Mickelson.
“After seeing Steve Williams’ comments, all I could think of was how lucky I am to have a class act like Bones (Jim Mackay) on my bag and representing me,” Mickelson said.
Williams, who is coming up on the 10-year anniversary of working for the world’s No. 1 player, said he was speaking at a charity dinner for his foundation when he made the comment.
“I was on stage doing a Q & A with the crowd when the question came up about playing with Mickelson in the Ryder Cup,” Williams said, referring to the infamous Woods-Mickelson pairing at Oakland Hills in 2004. “It was a lighthearted conversation. One guy asked me about the tee shot Phil hit on the final hole when I said it.”
Woods and Mickelson lost both their matches, with Mickelson hitting a 3-wood off the 18th tee into an unplayable lie that cost them the foursomes match against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
“There was never any conversation about Tiger and Phil – it was me and Phil,” Williams said. “The whole thing has been taken way out of context. I shouldn’t have said it; I agree with that. People say funny things all the time at these things. It was not meant to be any harm. It was one of those lighthearted, funny things.”
Williams said he has spoken to Woods, but declined to discuss their conversation. He said he has not spoken to Mickelson, but would if he had his phone number.
And what would he say?
“I’d just tell him the situation – that it was a charity event, a fun event, and it’s no secret me and you don’t get along,” Williams said.
The comments figure to bring even more intrigue to the Woods-Mickelson rivalry, and to a relationship that is hard to pin down.
They have never been particularly close, and they appeared to be even more distant when they lost both their matches as partners in the 2004 Ryder Cup, where they rarely spoke to each other.
But they exchange friendly barbs in the locker room, and both have paid each other compliments over the years. Mickelson credits Woods with a spike in prize money, and when Mickelson had his worst season on tour in 2003, Woods said Lefty had too much talent to end his career without a major and that his wedge game was the best in golf. Mickelson went on to win a major each of the next three years.
Williams told the Sunday Star Times that he was simply being honest.
“I don’t particularly like the guy myself,” he told the newspaper. “He pays me no respect at all and hence, I don’t pay him any respect. It’s no secret we don’t get along, either.”
Mickelson’s management also took issue with a story Williams told the Taranaki Daily News about a fan heckling Mickelson’s physique, saying the caddie plugged in Mickelson’s name to an incident that happened years ago.
That famous story involved Colin Montgomerie at Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open.
Woods is to speak Wednesday at the Chevron World Challenge, where he is the tournament host. He has not played since winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he and Mickelson played together the first two rounds.
What he discussed and how he dealt with Williams remains unknown.
Woods credits his caddie for reading a crucial putt for par at Medinah in 1999 that helped Woods win the PGA Championship, and for talking him into a 60-degree wedge out of the rough on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines this summer, where Woods made a 12-foot birdie putt to force a playoff against Rocco Mediate in the U.S. Open.
Williams is only the second full-time caddie Woods has employed since he turned pro in 1996. The other was Mike “Fluff” Cowan, who was replaced in February 1999. Some believe Cowan was fired for giving interviews and seeking publicity, but Woods simply was looking for a caddie who better fit his high-energy levels.
Williams has had several run-ins with fans, media and tour officials, never caring what anyone thought.
He threw a $7,000 camera into a pond at the Skins Game when a photographer working for a corporate sponsor took a picture in the middle of Woods’ swing out of a bunker on the final hole. He also wrested a camera from a fan – an off-duty police officer – at the U.S. Open in 2004. Williams routinely was fined by the tour for wearing shorts that were not approved.