When Woods shook the hand of Steve Williams, his former caddie and current adversary, the gallery by the first tee applauded. When Woods and Steve Stricker were bashed, 7 and 6, by Adam Scott and K.J. Choi in foursomes, the reaction of onlookers was disbelief.
The outcome was thought to be the most lopsided match-play defeat Woods has suffered at any level since he hopped out of that garage high-chair at 10 months old and started beating balls into a net. Woods, often on the other side of such routs during his glory years, said he couldn't recall a worse loss.
But he was probably scrutinized Thursday more for a gesture than any shot he hit. On the first tee, Woods extended a hand to Williams, who had been looking down at the bag of Scott, his boss since Woods fired him in July. The two shook and exchanged brief verbal greetings.
Let Woods give the play-by-play, with a touch of interesting analysis.
"I put my hand out there to shake," said Woods, who also shook Williams' hand on the 12th green at Royal Melbourne after the match. "As I said, life goes forward. There are some great things that Stevie and I did. That's how I look at it. I know he probably looks at it differently than I do, but, hey, life goes forward. I'm very happy with what we did in our career together. But life goes forward."
Yes, life goes forward. But one senses that remnants of recent animosity still live. Between handshakes, Woods and Williams had no interaction and pretty much stayed away from each other. As on-course television reporter David Feherty cracked on the fourth hole, "They'd have to shout to each other."
But Woods was said to have been irked that the caddie went out of his way to exuberantly cheer for some Scott shots. Read between the lines and see an undercurrent. Chew on this quote again: "I know he probably looks at it differently than I do."
Recent history would seem to support that.
Even though he was on the bag for 13 of Woods' 14 major-championship victories, Williams called the WGC-Bridgestone victory in August with Scott the "most satisfying" win of his 33-year career as a caddie.
Williams further poked Woods two weeks ago in Shanghai at an annual caddie banquet, saying his Bridgestone joy was prompted by his desire to "shove it up that black arse----." Woods accepted Williams' quick apology when they met and shook hands at a gym last week during the Australian Open.
Life goes on, yes, but resentment apparently lingers.
Life also goes on without the once-vaunted Woods-Stricker pairing. That dynasty is broken. They went 4-0 together at the 2009 Presidents Cup and started 2-0 at last year's Ryder Cup.
But they have lost their last two matches together, both foursomes, by rout: 6 and 5 against Lee Westwood and Luke Donald at the Ryder and Thursday's whipping. Little wonder American captain Fred Couples has split them up for Friday four-ball, instead pairing Woods with Dustin Johnson and Stricker with Matt Kuchar.
"We were just talking. The last couple of times we went out, we have not been good," Stricker said.
That qualifies as an understatement.
The Internationals won only one of the six Thursday matches in falling behind 4-2. But it was a big scalp. It was the only match chronicled by first-tee photo and large headline.
You might say Woods was stunned. Even on the first green, when Scott and Choi didn't concede a 2-foot putt to Stricker.
"I was very surprised," Woods said. "He's probably the best putter on the planet. I don't think he's missed one of those since he came out of the womb."
Bottom line, Woods and Stricker were as bad as Scott and Choi were good. The winners went 4 under for the 12 holes; the losers, 3 over. Scott-Choi won three holes with pars. Woods and Stricker made no birdies and were the only duo not to win a hole in the opening session.
"We just never got into any flow, any momentum, anything," said Stricker, clearly off his game. "We never put any pressure on them. We were a little off and they played great, and that combination led to a lopsided defeat."
Three of the lost holes could be blamed on Stricker, two on Woods. The Internationals won the par-5 second with birdie after Stricker hooked a drive left into high rough, the par-3 fifth after Woods tugged an iron into a bunker, the sixth on a 9-foot Choi birdie putt, the seventh after Woods' drive into right weeds led to a penalty drop, the ninth after Stricker found a right greenside bunker, the 11th after Stricker hit a weak chip and the 12th on another 9-foot Choi birdie putt.
"Unfortunately we got in a position (behind) where we had to fire at flags," said Woods, whose previous worst Presidents loss was 5 and 4 with Charles Howell III in 2003 foursomes against Ernie Els and Tim Clark. "I didn't want to do that. We're hitting first and they've got a shorter iron than we do. I knew they could spin it."
Spin control is important here.
Even when it comes to handshakes.
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