A crass remark uttered by a jilted caddie who is that grotesque mix of the stupid and the arrogant? A malicious comment from a racist whose bitterness manifested itself in the most disgusting manner? A foolish, insensitive, naïve quip from one of golf's own which shows the underlying bigotry in the ancient game?
Of all the conclusions to be reached, the sport will pray the first-mentioned will emerge the stronger. Right now, that seems a long way away. And it was hardly hastened by the barrage of "no comments" from the authorities yesterday.
Someone should have taken a stand against Steve Williams. Or that should read "some body". Instead of the sport's governing bodies releasing a statement along the lines of "there is no place in our sport for such racism" and lobbying to reveal the likelihood of sanction, the most we received was from the unfortunates who thought they were in Shanghai to stage a prestigious tournament. They said the Annual Caddies Award at the players' hotel on Friday night, where the Kiwi launched his vile outburst, was "a private function". In truth, the onus was not on HSBC, the sponsors of the WGC Champions, or IMG, the promoters. It was on the Tours. They failed in their duty.
Of course, the spotlight was to fall on Adam Scott, the brilliant and soft-spoken Australian who employs Williams. What baggage Scott looks set to carry now he has pledged to continue using the abuser of Tiger Woods. Scott has been so, so ill-advised to give Williams his full backing, if only because of the distraction it will cause to his game. Did he have a moral responsibility not to be as flippant to suggest "it was all part of the fun of the evening"? Undoubtedly. But the choice about Williams's employment shouldn't be his to make. Williams should be banned, regardless of his apology made on his website.
So who should issue the suspension? The International Federation of Tours arrange this event but it is the PGA Tour who must be held as responsible. Scott isn't a European Tour member and Williams is not in the European Tour Caddies Association. The PGA Tour's response? Yep. "No comment." This is a body, don't forget, who have dished out long bans to the likes of John Daly for "bringing the game into disrepute".
The Wild Thing is not deserving of our sympathy, but maybe even he would see the double standards in this affair and wonder if the silence from American HQ in Sawgrass has something to do with the hope that this controversy will float away. They can hope all they want. It won't. The celebrity of Woods will see to that.
The former world No 1 is preparing for the Australian Open. There, he will be asked to line up against a man using one of his former caddies, who referred to him as a "black arsehole" into a microphone, on stage, in front of many of the world's great players, high-ranking employees of the major Tours and one of the game's biggest sponsors. Woods may even be asked to play in the same group as Scott.
Yesterday, quotes from Mark Steinberg, Woods's long-time manager, expressed the hurt felt by the 14-time major champion: "There's really nothing that Tiger can do or say." Again, Woods shouldn't be called upon to play judge. As a sportsman, he should be allowed to compete in the knowledge he won't be the victim of racial abuse at his place of work.
Woods needs protecting, ethics need protecting, the sport needs protecting. We need a clear and firm condemnation from the powers that be that they will not tolerate racism. They simply cannot hide behind "off the record" etiquettes. A line hasbeen crossed.
Isn't it ridiculous: players are cast through the gates for heinous crimes such as not signing their name in the right spot on the scorecard; yet caddies are allowed to march on without so much as a dressing-down for causing racial outrage
Recrimination is brewing. The demand to punish will become too great to ignore. Yet this shouldn't be about the effect it will have on the sponsors, or on prize money. It should be about what's right and wrong. And so the anti-golf brigade will have a field day. Racism, sexism, elitism – all entrenched in the sport, you see.
They aren't. Not in the professionalgame, anyway. Granted, Tiger Woods is one of only two black golfers in the top 100. Yet that has more to do with society than the exclusivity of the country clubs. Racism is not a problem in professional golf. However, even the game's biggest apologists recognise it will look that way now. The authorities should be ashamed. They must banish a man who is at the very best dim-witted, with racial tones reverberating around that vast ego. Condemn or condone.