SYDNEY -- Tiger Woods and Steve Williams could learn a lot from each other.
They no longer are the best of friends, not even close. Their indiscretions were nothing alike. But a timeless lesson applies to both of them over the last two years: Treat people well on the way up, or there won't be anyone to catch you on the way down.
Woods set an incomparable standard with numbers that even now are staggering – 54 wins around the world, 10 majors and the career Grand Slam twice while still in his 20s.
Outside the ropes, he left a lot to be desired.
He rarely stopped to sign autographs, and when he did, it wasn't for long. Woods didn't help tournament promoters with his policy of waiting until the last minute to announce he was playing. With the exception of Notah Begay, his roommate at Stanford, Woods didn't take part in other players' charity events. Even among his peers, he didn't let more than a few players get close to him.
Most of the disdain, however, came from the media.
Woods felt burned early in his career by a GQ magazine article, but it soon became a game of how little he could say. Woods is not a naturally gifted speaker, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there was so little effort that it came across as arrogant.
No one should have been expected to go easy on Woods when his life came crashing down in a shocking episode of serial adultery. He brought that on himself. But in some corners, there was delight to see him lose his corporate sponsors, lose his marriage, lose his game.
Even now, and without as much effort as he realizes, Woods still has a chance to reinvent himself. It starts with winning, and getting back to the top of his game. Neither will be easy as it once was.
Williams, though, has a tougher road.
He's still just a caddie.
Williams showed how much contempt he has for Woods at the Bridgestone Invitational when he caddied for Adam Scott in victory, allowed himself to be interviewed on the 18th green by CBS Sports and made it sound as though he won the tournament. "The best win of my life," he said.
It was that interview that led to an even bigger mess. At the caddies award party last week in Shanghai, his peers chose to roast him with the "Celebration of the Year." In a night filled with bar room banter that wasn't supposed to leave the room, Williams was asked about that interview and said, "It was my aim to shove it up that black a------."
He made himself an easy target for racism, though that's not what this was about.
Woods said as much himself Tuesday at the Australian Open. With a chance to bury Williams, he bailed him out by saying, "Stevie's certainly not a racist, there's no doubt about that. I think it was a comment that shouldn't have been made and was certainly one that he wished he didn't make."
Williams didn't make many friends in the 12 years caddying for Woods. He has even fewer now.
His job was unlike other caddies, just as Woods was unlike any other player. Williams felt as though he had to be a bodyguard as much as a caddie, though he often took it to an extreme.
He could be gruff with marshals and tournament officials, a lawman when it came to photographers. He was accessible only to the media he knew. He operated by his own set of rules, wearing shorts before they were allowed and letting Woods pay the fine. Most annoying to some was his habit of removing his caddie bib on the 18th green instead of waiting until the round was over.
Three years ago, he used a vulgar term to describe Phil Mickelson. How many other caddies have been caught saying that about players, let alone one of the sport's biggest names?
Most of all, though, Williams lost touch with his peers.
In conversations over the years, the recurring theme from so many caddies was that Williams behaved as if he were better than the rest of them. Some of them smiled at Firestone when they saw Williams in the caddie tent. It was the first time they had seen him there in a long time. Much like Woods, he had a few close friends among caddies – Fanny Sunesson, for example – but not many.
When he found himself in trouble in Shanghai, few among his colleagues came to his defense.
A comment like that was bound to get out, even if the night was off the record. Four British reporters were the first to go with the story, none of whom were at the party.
How did they find out what Williams had said?
From another caddie.
As much as the media try to keep this story going, Williams most likely will survive. Scott, along with the tours, have condemned his choice of words and spoken out against anything resembling a racist remark. They also accept his apology and are ready to move on.
For Woods, it was the second time he has taken the high road after Williams tried to make him look bad – first with the TV interview, then with his racial slur at the caddies' dinner. That makes the caddie's actions look only worse.
Even among caddies, few will argue that Williams is among the best in the business. But no matter how bitter Williams is toward is former boss, even if he feels justified by his feelings, he needs to realize it's a battle he will never win.
Ultimately, fans care about who wins the tournament – not who was carrying the clubs.