If Tiger Woods suspected everyone was against him then yesterday he received confirmation. After being grilled in his first British press conference since the scandal broke, the world No 1's faltering game came under attack from his very own caddie. Steve Williams held back with all the sensitivity of a celebrity website.
Woods will surely be annoyed by the New Zealander's criticisms, particularly as they appeared on the PGA Tour's website. It was an extraordinarily timed "his game's not up to scratch" assessment of his employer's form, coming as it did two days before he tries to become the first player to win three St Andrews majors. According to Williams, Woods will tee off in the 137th Open Championship tomorrow with a huge handicap.
"The one part of Tiger's game this year that has been very sub-standard is his putting," said the bagman who has been with Woods since 1999. "He hasn't putted well in any of his events. The key to playing well at St Andrews is putting." Williams added: "He's renowned as a good putter... but there's been no consistency. It's been poor in every tournament he's played. It has been frustrating, no two ways about it. But he loves to play St Andrews, he knows how to play the golf course... I've made it very clear to him what he has to do and that the onus is going to be on putting."
Woods, himself, called his putting "just awful" at the AT&T National two weeks ago and is so anxious to improve his game on the greens that for the first time in 11 years and more than 200 tournaments he will abandon his Scotty Cameron putter. Despite winning more than $90m with the club he called "irreplaceable" as well as 72 tournaments and 13 majors, Woods has swapped to a new Nike model.
Many will inevitably view this as the action of a desperate man and Williams' critique will only strengthen that suspicion. The Kiwi admitted how exasperating it has been to watch Woods so far this season as he has remained winless since returning from a self-enforced five-month exile.
"When you caddie for someone like Tiger, you come to expect a lot of good things," said Williams, who has been with Woods for almost the same amount of time as the discarded putter. "I'm used to seeing a lot of good golf. When you're not seeing that for an extended period of time and not seeing a lot of improvement, that's what's frustrating."
At least Woods's principal sponsors will be happy. By switching to the Method putter, Woods will earn manufacturer Nike a forecasted $50m (£33m) in sales. But that was not the reason for his radical overhaul. Woods claims these St Andrews greens are far slower than they were when he won here in 2005 and 2000 and that is plainly of deep concern. "I've always struggled on slower greens," said Woods. "I've always putted well on faster greens. This putter does come off faster with the new groove technology. It rolls the ball better, and rolls it faster. So these greens, I've had to make very little adjustment in how hard I'm hitting it compared to if I had my older putter."
This is the second equipment change in as many tournaments for the 34-year-old. At the AT&T, Woods decided to use a different Nike ball with a harder cover, giving him more distance and reducing the spin. That raised eyebrows among the initiated – but yesterday's revelation saw them disappear under the visor. If anything shows that the self-doubts are invading golf's strongest psyche then surely this is it. "I've always experimented with other putters throughout the years, but I've never put one in play until now," he said.
Woods refused to talk about the rumours that his divorce had been finalised but did all but admit that he had been granted access to his children for three days last week. Explaining why he flew back from Ireland to Orlando last Tuesday, before returning across the channel on Saturday, Woods said: "I went home and had a great time. That was an incredible experience to hang out with my kids. Normally I don't come over, play two days and then go back home. But the reason why I did is obviously for my kids."
Today, Woods will tee it up in the Champions' Challenge, a four-hole exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship. Woods plays alongside a long-time adversary in Sir Nick Faldo and it will be interesting to see the rapport between the pair. As it will be to see the atmosphere between Woods and Williams. "What's been different this year is his form hasn't been that great," said Williams. "I can see it's been a lot more difficult for him to turn it around during a tournament. Obviously that back nine was brilliant Saturday at the US Open – but outside of that it's been a bit of a struggle."