SHANGHAI – Already one of the most festive evenings in golf, the annual Caddies Awards roast was buzzing with talk that Tiger Woods' former caddie might be getting a prize.
One award was called "Celebration of the Year." Everyone knew who would get it and why.
The surprise was how Steve Williams ripped into his old boss with a racial slur that caused even more commotion involving the jilted caddie and golf's biggest name.
"He's a character within the game of golf, and whatever bitterness that exists between him and Tiger should be in the past by now," said Graeme McDowell, one of several players at the party. "It's unfortunate that it's going to rear it's head again."
Williams, still angered over getting fired by Woods this summer, was working for Adam Scott when he won the Bridgestone Invitational. That tournament also was the first time Woods played since splitting with his caddie. An emotionally charged Williams gave a TV interview on the 18th green and called it "the best win of my life," even though he had been on the bag for 13 majors with Woods.
On Friday night, the host called Williams to the stage to collect his award and asked him to explain his enthusiasm. Williams, with a smirk on his face, leaned toward the microphone and said, "It was my aim to shove it right up that black a------."
On a night filled with banter and off-color remarks, this one was a show-stopper. Heads turned, eyes widened and jaws dropped amid a mixture of shock and laughter.
Williams later issued a statement apologizing to Woods. That was good enough for Scott, who said he had no plans to fire his caddie.
"I think everything in that room last night was all in good spirits and for a bit of fun," Scott said after his third round Saturday at the HSBC Champions. "And I think it probably got taken out of that room in the wrong context."
Even as players and caddies spilled into the bar, they couldn't stop talking about it — some because of the racial overtones, some because of how Williams so openly showed his disdain for Woods.
The ground rules for the roast is that everything is off the record, yet this was bound to get out.
A group of British reporters returning from a night out in Shanghai were at the hotel bar when at least one caddie told them what was said. Williams was stunned the next morning to learn that his comments had been published.
"Why would they do that?" he said. "The whole thing was meant to be fun."
He shook his head and walked away without wanting to say more. Hours later, Williams posted a comment on his website.
"I apologize for comments I made last night at the Annual Caddy Awards dinner in Shanghai," it said. "Players and caddies look forward to this evening all year, and the spirit is always joking and fun. I now realize how my comments could be construed as racist. However, I assure you that was not my intent. I sincerely apologize to Tiger and anyone else I've offended."
Woods was in Australia, though it didn't take long for the comments to get back to him.
"I was with Tiger last night when he heard the news," agent Mark Steinberg said. "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."
Scott said he was satisfied with Williams' apology and that his comments were not reported in the right spirit of the evening. When asked if Williams should be fired, Scott said, "I disagree with that."
"Look, anything with Tiger involved is a story," Scott said. "I value Steve's contribution to my game and having him on the bag. While he's caddying, I hope he can caddie for me."
Scott said he did not talk to Williams about it after the awards party — both stayed to the end — or on the course Saturday morning. Asked about comments that Williams was racist, Scott replied, "I think we all know that's not the case."
"Those things are not meant to go past that room," Scott said. "Obviously, somebody took it out and that's the way it goes. There's really no safe haven for what you say, and so you've got to be careful."
Players who were at the party were careful to say nothing.
Ian Poulter walked away when the topic arose. Lee Westwood resorted to his dry wit when he replied, "I've had an ear infection for two weeks and I couldn't hear a lot of what was going on, so it would be wrong for me to comment on anything."
Beyond his choice of words was the deep resentment Williams expressed.
"It's just unfortunate that there's been such an argument between a player and a caddie," U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy said. "I've heard that Stevie has apologized for his comments, and I think now that he's done that, everyone can just move on and put it behind them."
Not so fast.
Woods and Scott are supposed to be in the same group next week at the Australian Open, and the following week is the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, where there is the chance they could face each other.
Scott feels stuck in the middle, so maybe it's appropriate that he has a home in Switzerland.
"I don't think it should be awkward for me," Scott said. "I'm the guy stuck in the middle, but I don't really have a gripe with either guy. So it's for them to sort out between themselves."
Some felt that Williams should have lost his job three years ago when he used a disparaging comment about Mickelson during a dinner in New Zealand. Woods had him apologize to Mickelson.
McDowell was among several players who did not believe Williams was being racist with his comments, particularly in a night filled with slapstick humor.
"He takes one word out of that sentence, and nothing gets said about it," McDowell said. "These are racially sensitive times, especially in sport."
Last month, English soccer star John Terry allegedly made racial comments toward an opponent in Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League.
McDowell called the situation with Williams "very sticky."
"I kind of feel bad for him in many ways because it was a very humorous evening," he said. "And it's unfortunate that it's come out as negatively as it did."