Woods attempts to defuse Mickelson row

World No 1 tries to play down caddie's insult and says 'it's over and done with'

Over the years Tiger Woods has become particularly adept at laying things to rest – rivals and records mainly – but last night he attempted to put to sleep a controversy set to run and run.

He revealed at a press conference on the eve of the Chevron World Challenge, his own tournament in California, that he had "communicated" with Phil Mickelson about Woods' caddie calling him a "prick". "It's over and done with," declared Woods, perhaps more out of hope than expectation.

Whether this will be the end of it is highly dubious. There will certainly be huge media interest the next time the pair are drawn with each other if only to see whether, as the game's etiquette dictates, Mickelson shakes hands with his abuser, Steve Williams, on the first tee. At a fundraiser in Taranaki, the New Zealander said: "I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player, because I hate the prick", and then went on to tell a fictional tale of a heckler shouting "nice tits" at Mickelson.

On Sunday the world No 3 responded with a terse statement which all but accused Williams of lacking class, although by then the caddie had seemingly compounded his "inappropriate" behaviour by insisting in a New Zealand newspaper that Woods and Mickelson "don't get along". Williams also claimed Woods would not be particularly bothered by his ill-advised remarks. "It's no big deal," said the man credited as being the best bag-carrier in the game.

Woods' reported relaxed demeanour at the Sherwood Country Club yesterday signified that Williams was at the very least partly correct and the 14-time major champion confirmed that he would still be employing Williams when he returns from his long lay-off in the new year. Yet the fact that he felt compelled to make contact with Mickelson is interesting as is his claim that Williams feels contrition for his disparaging comments, despite Williams, himself, indicating otherwise. "I communicated with Phil, and we discussed it," said Woods. "I talked to Stevie about it. He feels about what happened... we put it to bed."

Because of the perceived threat to the new-found harmony in the America teamroom, there had been conjecture that Woods would have to find a new caddie for next year's Presidents Cup in San Francisco and maybe even for the Ryder Cup the following year, but that now seems unlikely. Woods commands such respect that it would take a very brave captain indeed to ask him to ditch the caddie to whom he was best man in 2006 and with whom he has won all but one of his majors. If Woods wants "Stevie", as he calls him, in his corner then it is doubtful whether he could or would be budged.

Which will only add to all the intrigue when Woods finally comes back from the knee reconstruction he underwent after his US Open victory at Torrey Pines in June. The 31-year-old said he can now stabilise the knee and is ahead of his original schedule of starting practice in January. But he also stressed that he is still some way off a competitive return. "I've been hitting full shots the last couple of weeks," he said. "But it's not going very far, so I know how you guys feel." Woods does, however, expect to be ready for The Masters in April.

One player who hopes to be in that Augusta field alongside the four-time winner is the 19-year-old Rory McIlroy. At 50th in the world rankings, the Ulsterman is currently in the last qualifying spot for the Masters and must hang on in the year's final event, the South African Open which begins at Pearl Valley today.

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