First came the shock, then the apology, then the riposte, then the closing of ranks and finally followed the support. After a day of intense scrutiny and conjecture, Adam Scott announced he would not be sacking his caddie Steve Williams for calling his former employer Tiger Woods "that black arsehole".
The affair, however, is far from over. As the world digested the comments made at the Annual Caddie Awards here on Friday night the story inevitably snowballed. From being oblivious at breakfast, Williams must have been deeply relieved at bed-time. Except, even he isn't so dumb to believe this matter is at a close, or, without his dismissal, will reach a close at the climax of the HSBC WGC Champions here today.
Woods' manager, Mark Steinberg, revealed Woods' disappointment and with both Scott and Woods playing in Australia for the next two weeks, the controversy looks set to run and run.
Williams woke up yesterday thinking his comments on stage at the "informal event" would remain unreported. When receiving an award at the function, Williams was asked why he celebrated so strenuously at Akron when Scott won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational a few weeks after he had been fired by Woods. "My aim was to shove it right up that black arsehole," he replied. The dinner was attended by many of the world's top players, as well as top officials and members of the media.
The 47-year-old retired to bed in the same hotel, while downstairs in the bar the talk centred around his abuse. Most agreed the news would leak out and so, of course, it duly did. At breakfast, Williams spoke to a journalist from the Associated Press who told him the British newspapers had printed his statements, made in front of more than 200 people. "Why would they do that?" said a stunned Williams, who had never before attended the caddies' night. "The whole thing was meant to be fun."
In two hours flat, "sorry" became the easiest word. "I apologise for comments I made last night at the Annual Caddie Awards dinner in Shanghai," read a statement on Williams' own website. "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've offended."
Woods already knew all about the slur. In Australia, playing in corporate days before heading to the Australian Open in Sydney, the Woods camp was informed as soon as the festivities broke up. "I was with Tiger last night when he heard the news," said Steinberg, his long-time agent. "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."
Meanwhile, Williams arrived at the course with Scott, where he accused another American journalist, erroneously, of putting it out in the US. The PGA Tour refused to comment, as did the European Tour. Both have the power to ban caddies, although Scott is not a member of the European Tour and neither is Williams a member of the European Tour Caddies Association. The only official comment came from event promoters IMG. "This was a private function," said spokeswoman, Michele Mair. "There will not be any further comment on this matter." The "private function" line was to receive some airtime.
Most of the players coming back to the clubhouse after the third round at Sheshan International issued a steely "no comment" to reporters asking their thoughts. Graeme McDowell was one of the few who did talk.
"The comments were surprising, yes," said the 2010 US Open champion. "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.
"I kind of feel bad for him in many ways because it was a very humorous evening... Should he be sacked? I don't know. I hope he can resolve it – he's a character and whatever bitterness that exists between him and Tiger should be in the past by now. I don't think Stevie Williams was trying to be racial. I think he was trying to be funny and make a joke of it."
By now it was Scott's turn to return to the recorders' room after a gutsy 69 kept him in touch with the leader Freddie Jacobson. Williams, who spent 12 years with Woods during which time the latter won 13 majors, was seen laughing on his way to the locker room, while Scott was obliged to face a media scrum. "Steve issued a statement and apologised and did the right thing," said Scott. "I disagree that he should be sacked. Everything in that room last night was in good spirits and was a bit of fun and I think it probably got taken out in the wrong context.
"Anything with Tiger involved is a story, but I value Steve's contribution to my game and while he is caddieing I hope he can caddie for me. I don't really think that stuff has ever left the room before and there's probably good reasons why. I think it's probably all very unnecessary. I thought it was all in jest, that's how the whole evening was, everything was quite amusing."
Whether Woods finds it so funny remains to be seen. Yesterday he was in Perth taking part in an invitational event and security was so strict no members of the press or public were admitted. Woods will give his pre-tournament press conference in Sydney on Tuesday and the questioning will be obvious. Depending whether Williams has either been a) sacked by Scott or b) banned by the authorities, the intrigue will reach a climax in that media room at The Lakes. Woods has been at the centre of a storm since his multiple affairs were revealed two years ago. If there is any consolation, here is a storm not of his making.
How the drama unfolded
"My aim was to shove it right up that black arsehole."
Steve Williams at the Caddie Awards dinner on Friday night.
"I apologise for comments I made last night at the Annual Caddie Awards dinner in Shanghai. 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've offended."
Steve Williams, yesterday morning.
"I was with Tiger last night when he heard the news. We got multiple calls from people who sounded like they were leaving the caddie party. Tiger obviously wasn't there. He doesn't know exactly what was said. But 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."
Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods' agent.
"I disagree that he should be sacked. Everything in that room last night was in good spirits and a bit of fun, probably taken out of that room in the wrong context. Look, anything with Tiger is a story. I value Steve's contribution to my game and to have him on the bag. While he's caddieing, I hope he can caddie for me."
"Should he be sacked? I don't know.''
"It's unfortunate there's been such an argument between a player and a caddie. Stevie has apologised for his comments, and now that he's done that everyone can just move on."