CLEVELAND -- Tiger Woods fired caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan on Monday, ending a highly successful 2 1/2 -year partnership.
Cowan did not carry Woods' bag twice this year, at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, which Woods won, and at the Match Play Championship two weeks ago. Both times, Woods' high school friend, Byron Bell, was his caddie.
But Bell, who is planning to attend medical school, was not interested in the job fulltime, and Woods hired Steve Williams, who has worked for Raymond Floyd the last 12 years, to replace Cowan.
"Fluff and I have discussed this over the past few weeks," Woods said in a statement released by International Management Group, which represents the world's top-ranked golfer. "We both feel it is in our best interest to part ways.
"I appreciate the support which Fluff has provided and recognize the contributions Fluff has made to my success as a professional. But it is time to move on and I feel confident we will remain friends."
Observers noticed a tension between Woods and Cowan in recent tournaments in which Cowan caddied. Woods apparently began questioning Cowan's work habits and dedication.
"Is there friction? Yes," said Butch Harmon, Woods' coach, during the Doral-Ryder Open, which Woods skipped. "They have some issues to work out. But it's nothing more than what goes on with players and caddies all the time."
Apparently, it wasn't so simple, and Harmon was consulted about hiring Williams, who also has caddied for Greg Norman. Harmon approached Floyd about the availability of Williams, then Woods interviewed Williams before hiring him.
"I insisted that this be handled the proper way," Woods said. "I did not want it to seem as though we were going behind anyone's back.
Cowan left Peter Jacobsen for Woods in 1996 when Woods turned pro. He gave Woods tour experience the 20-year-old lacked, knew all of the courses and was a steadying influence.
But Woods has been taking stronger control over all aspects of his career. He fired agent Hughes Norton last year and now he has parted with Cowan.
With Cowan on his bag, Woods won the 1997 Masters and seven PGA Tour events, helping him reach the top ranking in the world.