Steve Williams drew the ire of the world's third-ranked golfer when, during an event in New Zealand, he said, "I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player, 'cause I hate the [expletive]," according to The Guardian newspaper of Britain.
In a next-day interview with another newspaper, the New Zealand-based Star Times, Williams also said, "I don't particularly like the guy. He pays me no respect at all and hence I don't pay him any respect. It's no secret we don't get along either."
When Williams' remarks began to circulate, Mickelson put out a statement through his representatives.
"After seeing Steve Williams' comments all I could think of was how lucky I am to have a class act like Bones on my bag and representing me," he said. Mickelson's caddie, Jim MacKay, is nicknamed "Bones."
Williams said Monday night that he regrets the disparaging comment.
"I don't deny that him and I don't get along," Steve Williams told The Associated Press from his home in New Zealand. "I shouldn't have said it, but no harm was meant. I was just having some fun."
Williams also brought up an incident which The Guardian said Williams relayed from this year's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, during which a fan supposedly heckled Mickelson. Mickelson, who was paired with Woods for the round, struggled with his game thereafter, according to Williams' story. Woods and Mickelson played together in the first two rounds, but Mickelson did not struggle on the 17th and 18th holes in either round.
In his statement, Mickelson said Williams' account was an "absolute fabrication," that his comments were "grossly inaccurate and irresponsible," and that the scenario occurred during the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage in New York and involved not him but a European Tour player. In fact, Mickelson and Woods were not ever paired together at Bethpage Black in 2002.
On Sunday, Williams told the New Zealand paper that he didn't expect the story to reach the public. "I certainly didn't make [the comments] to a media person," he said. "I visit a lot of golf clubs and do a lot of speaking for charity and that is one of the questions I get asked the most: What is Tiger's relationship like with Phil Mickelson?
"I was simply honest and said they don't get along. You know what it's like. You're at a charity event and you have a bit of fun."
Woods, who first put Williams on his bag in the spring of 1999 and has worked with him for 13 of his 14 majors, issued a statement on Monday.
"I was disappointed to read the comments attributed to Steve Williams about Phil Mickelson, a player that I respect," he said. "It was inappropriate. The matter has been discussed and dealt with."
The world's top-ranked player is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday in advance of his Chevron World Challenge event at Sherwood Country Club in Southern California.
Woods and Mickelson have had a frosty relationship. In 2003, Mickelson told Golf Magazine that Woods was playing with "inferior" equipment, and then said only a player as good as Woods could ''overcome the equipment he's stuck with.'' Woods had recently completed a switch to Nike equipment. At the time, Mickelson used Titleist clubs and golf balls.
Woods called Mickelson after that, and said: ''We talked and cleared the air. Everything is fine. No worries. As we all know, Phil can try to be a smart aleck at times. I think that was one of those instances where it just backfired on him.''
Said Mickelson: ''I did not mean anything malicious by it, or I wasn't trying to make a derogatory statement toward anybody. I still should not have gone in that area.''
In 2006, after a brief stir caused by Mickelson's short-game coach Dave Pelz prior to the PGA Championship at Medinah, Woods said of Mickelson: "Phil and I are competitors. We've gotten to know each other over the years and we're fine."
That same week, Mickelson said that he had a "very unique relationship" with Woods.
"I've enjoyed the opportunity to compete against him and I've enjoyed the opportunity to play with him as a partner," Mickelson said, "the latter one probably being the better one."
Mickelson and Woods have reportedly broken some of the ice over pingpong during Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches. In fact, when Woods' daughter, Sam Alexis, was born in 2007, Mickelson sent a miniature pingpong table to Woods.
Williams continued to downplay his comment on Monday.
"I was on stage doing a Q & A with the crowd when the question came up about playing with Mickelson in the Ryder Cup," Williams said, referring to the infamous Woods-Mickelson pairing at Oakland Hills in 2004. "It was a lighthearted conversation. One guy asked me about the tee shot Phil hit on the final hole when I said it."
Woods and Mickelson lost both their matches, with Mickelson hitting a 3-wood off the 18th tee into an unplayable lie that cost them the foursomes match against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
"There was never any conversation about Tiger and Phil -- it was me and Phil," Williams said. "The whole thing has been taken way out of context. I shouldn't have said it; I agree with that. People say funny things all the time at these things. It was not meant to be any harm. It was one of those lighthearted, funny things."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.