Tiger Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams has admitted that comments he made last night about the golfer “could be construed as racist”.
Williams, sacked by Woods during the summer, issued an apology on his website after appearing to realise he had overstepped the mark when speaking at a caddie awards dinner in Shanghai.
“I apologise for comments I made last night,” said the 47-year-old New Zealander.
“Players and caddies look forward to this evening all year and the spirit is always joking and fun.
“I now realise how my comments could be construed as racist. However, I assure you that was not my intent.
“I sincerely apologise to Tiger and anyone else I have offended.”
Williams, who is now caddie for Adam Scott, will have a chance to apologise in person next week as Woods and Scott are both competing at the Australian Open in Sydney.
His remarks add an extra edge to an event already being billed as “unmissable”, and the pair will also be in opposition at the following week’s Presidents Cup match in Melbourne.
Woods had Williams on his bag for the last 13 of his 14 major victories between 1999 and 2008, but dispensed with his services before his return from injury at the world championship event in Akron in August.
Williams took great delight when Scott won that week, calling it the “best win of my career”.
Although comments at the caddie awards dinner are normally regarded as off the record, what Williams said shocked many of those present and the story came out.
Woods is already in Australia and was told about the remark.
His agent Mark Steinberg was reported as saying: “If multiple reports, which all seem to be accurate, are true, then it’s sad it’s come down to this.
“It’s a regrettable comment and there’s really nothing that Tiger can do or say. He’s just going to move on.”
Three years ago at a dinner in his home country, Williams made a disparaging remark about Phil Mickelson and Woods got him to apologise.
He has never been the most popular of caddies and his standing has now taken another knock.
Northern Irish star Graeme McDowell was present when Williams spoke at the caddie dinner and said: “The comments were surprising, yes.
“I’m aware that he’s released a statement this morning apologising. I would doubt severely if he meant it racially like it came over and hopefully his apology will in some shape or form settle the matter.
“We don’t want something made out of nothing. It was a fun night and we really hope that it doesn’t become too big of an issue.
“There were a lot of things said last night - jokes made, fun was taken - and things got a little bit out of hand.
“These are racially sensitive times, especially in sport. It’s unfortunate because it was a very sticky situation.
“I kind of feel bad for him in many ways because, like I say, it was a very humorous evening and it’s unfortunate that it’s come out as negatively as it did.
“Should he be sacked (by Scott)? I don’t know. I hope he can resolve it - he’s a character within the game of golf and whatever bitterness that exists between him and Tiger should be in the past by now.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s going to rear its head again.
“I don’t think Stevie Williams was trying to be racial. I don’t think it was a racial comment. I think he was trying to be funny and make a joke of it.
“It was an embarrassing situation that he was put in. He was up in front of his peers and colleagues and it came out wrong.”
Rory McIlroy commented: “It’s just unfortunate that there’s been such an argument between a player and a caddie.
“I’ve heard that since then Stevie has apologised for his comments, and I think now that he’s done that everyone can just move on and sort of put it behind them.”
Scott, lying third in the WGC-HSBC Champions with a round to go, said he disagreed with those who think he should dismiss Williams as his caddie.
“Steve issued a statement and apologised and he did the right thing. That’s all there is to say about that from my side of things,” he said.
“It’s not an issue for me. I think everything in that room last night was all in good spirits and a bit of fun and I think it probably got taken out of that room in the wrong context.
“Anything with Tiger involved is a story. I value Steve’s contribution to my game and while he’s caddying I hope he can caddie for me.
“There was a lot of language used last night and it’s just this was reported.
“I don’t really think that stuff has ever left the room before and it’s probably good reasons why. I think it’s probably all very unnecessary.”
Asked if he thought Williams was a racist, he replied: “I don’t think so. I think we all know that’s not the case.”
Scott also said he had not felt the need to confront Williams about the issue.
“It was already dealt with. It’s been dealt with as far as I’m concerned. I thought it was all in jest. That’s how the whole evening was - everything was quite amusing.
“Those things are not meant to go past that room, but obviously somebody took it out and that’s the way it goes.
“There’s really no safe haven for what you say and so you’ve got to be careful.”
The world number eight does not believe it will make life more awkward for him over the coming two weeks with Woods in direct opposition.
“I don’t think it makes it harder for me - I don’t think I’m the guy that’s having a finger pointed at or on the receiving end,” Scott added.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.
“I’m the guy stuck in the middle, but I don’t really have a gripe with either guy. It’s for them to sort out between themselves.”