Steve Williams was embroiled in sport's latest race row here last night after describing Tiger Woods, his former employer, as a "black arsehole". The Kiwi caddie made the comments on stage at a packed awards ceremony to an audience containing many of the world's top players, as well as officials of golf's major tours and one of the biggest sponsors.
Williams, who was sacked by the former world No 1 in August after 13 years together, was receiving the prize for "The Celebration of the Year" at the annual caddies' presentation night at the HSBC WGC Champions, one of the most prestigious events in the sport.
When asked by the MC why he reacted with such glee after his new boss had won a WGC event in Ohio, Williams replied: "My aim was to shove it right up that black arsehole." At the Bridgestone Invitational, the Australian Adam Scott had won a few weeks after Williams had been fired and the latter announced in an immediate post-tournament interview: "That was the most satisfying win of my career."
Scott was in the crowd last night and the immediate focus will now rest on his decision whether or not to dismiss Williams. He may even feel obliged to do so before he tees off in today's third round. It seems almost inconceivable he would stand by his bagman after statements which are sure to rock the sport. The European Tour and the PGA Tour both have the power to ban caddies, but regardless, it appears inevitable Williams will be ostracised from the game.
With racism such a hot topic throughout sport, there will be no way back for him, particularly as his abuse was plainly on a different level. Woods, who is en route to Australia for next week's Australian Open, will be forced to face questions about Williams and the controversy is certain to overshadow not only that event, but the Presidents Cup the week afterwards.
Williams will find few allies in his profession and, indeed, the rest of golf, despite the evening supposedly being "off record". It is an informal "closed doors" affair to which members of the press were invited on the understanding the events would not be reported. However, only a few journalists elected to attend the night sponsored by HSBC in the Grand Ballroom of Le Meridien Hotel, near the Sheshan International, where the majority of the pros are staying.
As soon as the insult was uttered there was obvious widespread disbelief and at least two caddies revealed they fully expected the news to leak out. Williams' disgrace was the talk of the bar afterwards and, although efforts were made to draw a veil over the affair, it is hard to see how they could keep such an appalling racial attack quiet.
One of the caddies said: "Never have you been in a room and seen so many jaws drop at the same time. We knew he was an idiot, but not a racist idiot. I was standing next to a European Tour official who said, 'Thank God he is not on our Tour'."
Williams, 47, is far from popular in the locker room. A few years ago, he called Phil Mickelson, again on stage at a private function, "a prick" and his brusque arrogant manner has separated him from the rank and file. Indeed, the caddies were understood to have made the award to poke fun at Williams after he was perceived to have taken Scott's glory in Akron.
Williams rarely appears at arranged caddies' functions and it is understood he only went along last night because of Scott attending. With players such as the world No 2, Lee Westwood, and the No 3, Rory McIlroy attending this was anything but a low-key occasion. McIlroy's girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1 women's tennis player, was also there as were high-ranking employees of the European Tour, the PGA Tour, the Asian Tour and of HSBC.
Clearly, this was the last thing the tournament and the entire sport wanted. The racist tag was traditionally applied to golf, which is still viewed as an elitist sport, although many hoped and will maintain the scourge has been eradicated from the professional fairways.
This is not the first time Woods has been the subject of racist comments. After he won the 1997 Masters, his first of 14 majors, Fuzzy Zoeller, a former Augusta winner, urged reporters "to tell him not to serve fried chicken next year [at the Champions' Dinner]."