Mike "Fluff" Cowan, once described by Tiger Woods as the best caddie in the world, will not be guiding his young master's fortunes at Augusta National next month. In a largely anticipated break-up the 51-year-old has been fired and replaced by another veteran, compatriot Steve Williams.
It all seems a long way removed from the heady, April days of 1997 when Woods stunned the golfing world with a 12-stroke victory in the US Masters. That was when Cowan celebrated by taking his wife, Lynn, on a belated honeymoon to Venice and Paris.
Woods said at the time: "Fluff means a lot to me. He's the best caddie in the world. He knows my game; he knows my temperament. We definitely make a great combo. Our relationship is more like two great friends playing out there."
They came together in the autumn of 1996 when Cowan's employer of 19 years, Peter Jacobsen, fell ill. With Jacobsen's blessing the caddie accepted the offer of the most coveted bag on tour.
Physically they became an unlikely partnership - the young, athletic build of Woods contrasting sharply with the well-rounded figure of a man whose nickname came from his bushy, white moustache and who was old enough to be his father. But it worked superbly, as Cowan guided Woods to seven American victories, including the Masters.
Most of today's caddies, even the most skilled, work in relative obscurity. But through his involvement with Woods, Fluff became a star in his own right, following in the tradition of such as Angelo Argea, the Greek-American with the leonine, grey mane, who enjoyed global familiarity as the shoulder beneath the clubs of Jack Nicklaus.
Augusta was unquestionably the highlight. "Fluff's experience of the course was great; some of the reads we had were real tricky," said Woods, reflecting on the first "major" triumph by a black golfer.
Yesterday, however, the 23-year-old said: "I appreciate the support which Fluff has provided and recognise the contributions Fluff has made to my success. But it is time to move on. I feel confident we will remain friends."
During their period together, Cowan became one of the biggest earners among the caddies on tour and was among the elite group to gain his own endorsement contract, appearing in television commercials for a motel chain. It is estimated that he earned up to £200,000 per year before endorsements, depending on Woods's performances.
"Very, very few caddies make a healthy living when the year's up," said Bob "Cowboy" Ming, a veteran of the craft. "Fluff, Tony Navarro (Greg Norman) and Fanny Sunesson (Nick Faldo), are among the few who get into six figures."
His basic salary was about £700 per week along with 10 per cent of the golfer's winnings. It permitted him an affluent lifestyle which, among other things, facilitated a golfing trip to this country 18 months ago when he played the top Kerry links before heading for Baltray and then to Royal Co Down and Royal Portrush.
But the relationship appeared to turn sour during the Nissan Open at the Riviera CC in Los Angeles last month, amid reports of a verbal altercation. It seems that Woods was upset by an article from Cowan in an American golf magazine, revealing the pair's financial arrangement.
Hints of the break-up gained momentum when Woods used a friend on his bag for two California events last month. Interestingly, Williams comes with very similar credentials to the man he's replacing, in that he has had a long-term relationship with his previous employer, which in his case was a 12-year stint with Raymond Floyd.