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Williams out of the loop with Woods

Longtime caddie was shocked by decision

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 21, 2011

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It’s not often that Tiger Woods throws up the “Help Wanted’’ sign, but if you’ve got any caddying experience, he might be accepting applications at www.tigerwoods.com.

Woods, who hasn’t played competitively in two months, hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in 22 months, and claimed the last of his 14 major championships more than three years ago, pink-slipped one of his longest-tenured employees, sacking Steve Williams after a 13-year partnership, the most successful player-caddie grouping golf ever has seen.

Woods went public with the move yesterday, posting the news on his website, saying, “Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future.’’ Williams, who has been caddying for Adam Scott in what was passed off as a temporary gig while Woods nurses knee and Achilles’ injuries, reportedly was informed earlier this month that his services were no longer needed. Based on the statement he released yesterday, he doesn’t agree with the decision.

“After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock,’’ Williams said. “Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger’s scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.’’

Woods won 13 of his 14 majors with Williams on the bag. Only his 1997 Masters win - when Mike “Fluff’’ Cowan was on the payroll - was accomplished without Williams.

What’s behind the move? Who really knows, since information flows from the Woods camp about as freely as water from a corkscrewed garden hose. While a 13-year partnership in professional golf is exceptionally rare, from this angle it smacks a little of desperation on the part of Woods. A new coach (Sean Foley) and new swing haven’t transformed Woods into the dominant force he used to be? Let’s try a new caddie, then.

On the other hand, and without any disrespect toward Williams, who also has won on the PGA Tour with Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd: When Woods is healthy and playing like he’s capable, anybody with a pulse can be lugging the bag and come off looking like gold. Williams rarely read greens for Woods, and spent as much time playing traffic cop and barking at fans and photographers as he did marking off yardages.

He did famously convince his boss to hit a different club from the rough on the 72d hole of the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. Woods listened, hit his approach hole-high to 12 feet, and canned the must-make birdie putt to force a playoff, which he won the next day. It was probably Williams’s finest on-course moment that had a direct hand in any of Woods’s victories.

Maybe Woods didn’t like Williams asking if he could work for someone else. Maybe after that much time together, both needed a break.

This much is certain, though: With Woods’s return date still uncertain, Williams can at least get back to steady work with Scott. Maybe he’ll discover a life spent far away from the circus isn’t so bad, after all.

In other assorted chip shots:

■Ever hear of Gareth Maybin? How about Michael Hoey? Stumped? They are the two highest-ranked players from Northern Ireland who have yet to win a major championship. Considering the championship run that small nation is on - Darren Clarke’s win at the British Open makes it two straight and three of the past six, following the breakthrough US Open wins of Graeme McDowell last year and Rory McIlroy last month - maybe we should install Maybin and Hoey as favorites for the PGA Championship. Alas, neither will be in the field. Maybin is ranked 159th in the world, Hoey 229th.

■How long will Tom Watson remain relevant at the British Open? For the second time in three years the 61-year-old electrified his ardent fans in the UK, making a second-round hole-in-one, hanging around the lead, and ultimately finishing in a tie for 22d. Starting with a playoff loss to Stewart Cink two years ago - at the age of 59 - Watson has a top-25 finish in a major each of the past three years. Picking on boys his own age, Watson also won the Senior PGA Championship this year. More proof that the golf ball doesn’t know and doesn’t care how old the player is.

■The biggest stars on the PGA Tour might be catching their breath and skipping the Canadian Open after last week’s British Open, but the LPGA and Champions tours have prestigious stops this week. The Evian Masters will become an LPGA major in 2013 - the official announcement came yesterday - and already offers the largest purse in women’s golf, $3.25 million (same as the US Women’s Open). It’s a much smaller field, though, just 112 players, including 18 of the top 20 in the world rankings.

The Champions Tour elite also have flown across the pond, readying for the Senior Open Championship (that’s the official name; consider it the Senior British Open), held this year for the first time at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. The tournament only dates to 1987, but it, too, has quickly worked its way into major status, with Bernhard Langer looking to repeat.

■Peter Uihlein, who made the cut at the British Open, is playing in another professional event, this time on the Nationwide Tour. The New Bedford native and reigning US Amateur champion has been given an exemption into the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament has made a point of inviting college All-Americans the past five years, so Uihlein - a first-team selection as a junior - will be making a return appearance. He missed the cut last year.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.