I believe Tiger Woods when he continually maintains that he doesn’t know when he will return to competitive golf. I trust him when he contends that he wants to ensure his injuries are 100 percent healed before he next tees it up.
I don’t, however, think for a second that Woods fired longtime caddie Steve Williams recently without already having a plan in place for the future.
While the entire world has been left to guess as to the identity of Tiger’s new looper once he comes back, there’s little doubt that the world’s 20th-ranked player could be sitting at home and twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the offers to start rolling in.
Sorry, caddie-wannabes. There will be no Monster.com posting for this job. There will be no open auditions on the range at Isleworth. There will be no reality television series during which Woods hands out roses to potential candidates, like those guys on “The Bachelor.”
Woods doesn’t make knee-jerk decisions in his professional life and there’s no doubt this one had a strategic thought process behind it.
Despite serving as his right-hand man for more than a dozen years and a baker’s dozen worth of major championship titles, Williams apparently angered his employer by not only temporarily caddying for Adam Scott beginning at the U.S. Open, but remaining on his bag for the ensuing AT&T National, as well.
The faux pas – even with permission from the boss – was likely viewed as Williams overstepping his boundary, but it’s difficult to believe that Woods would come to this decision without first hatching a contingency plan. He isn’t the type of guy to pay a day rate to a willing high school kid in the parking lot each time he pulls into a PGA Tour event.
And so now, the names are dropping, one by one, fueled by rumors and speculation.
One oddsmaking website shows Billy Foster as the early favorite. This was a much-rumored move a half-decade ago when Foster was on the bag for a struggling Darren Clarke, but it’s hard to believe he would leave world No. 2 Lee Westwood for a guy who isn’t even playing right now.
Next on that list is Tiger’s original bagman, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, but he’s in the same boat, already caddying for Jim Furyk. Besides, a switch back to Fluff would be an admission of a poor decision on Woods’ part, something which doesn’t happen very often, if at all.
Joe LaCava would have been an intriguing name a few months ago, but since getting Fred Couples’ blessing to leave for Dustin Johnson’s bag, he’s likely out of the mix. It just doesn’t make sense for a caddie to leave a 27-year-old in his prime who’s coming off a T-2 finish at the Open Championship.
Perhaps, though, much like the Couples-to-Johnson job switch, there’s an older friend of Woods – Mark O’Meara, John Cook or Mark Calcavecchia each come to mind – who would let their buddy “borrow” their man in an act of chivalry.
Two other potential candidates are Ricci Roberts and Tony Navarro, longtime loopers who currently don’t have jobs, having been canned by Ernie Els and Adam Scott, respectively, in recent months. Either of those guys would seem to make sense, but Woods’ decisions aren’t always perfectly sensible.
Another intriguing name is Brett Waldman. The former caddie for Camilo Villegas is currently playing the Nationwide Tour, where he's earned just $1,678 so far this season. When I contacted Waldman and asked if he's been called by Woods, though, he said simply, 'No.'
There’s a rumor that the head of Tiger’s design team, childhood friend Bryon Bell, could replace Williams on the bag, but it’s tough to think he wouldn’t want a professional on the job for what amounts to as much enforcer, traffic cop and Sherpa as caddie.
I’ve always believed that more players should take the route of Jason Day, whose caddie, Colin Swatton, is also his swing instructor. I approached Woods’ coach Sean Foley with such an idea, but he denied any interest, instead maintaining, “The bag is too heavy.”
Instead, we’re left guessing as to whom may be lugging the sticks next time Woods tees it up at a competitive event. That doesn’t mean everyone is guessing, though.
Somewhere, someone is sitting back, watching and reading all of the speculation about the next sidekick for the game’s most prolific player and secretly knows the job is all his.
We’ll soon find out, too – whenever Woods feels like telling us.