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Fluff on way out Tiger's caddie ?

Mike "Fluff" Cowan could be the next casualty in the maturation of Tiger Woods.

Cowan wasn't on the bag when Woods won three weeks ago in the Buick Invitational, and Woods raised eyebrows again last week when he used an old high school friend, Bryon Bell, in the $5 million Match Play Championship.

Woods said he only wanted to help Bell pay for medical school, but those inside the Woods camp admit there are problems with Cowan.

"Is there friction? Yes," Butch Harmon said during the Doral-Ryder Open. "They have some issues to work out. But it's nothing more than what goes on with players and caddies all the time."

Harmon declined to describe the source of the friction, but Golf World magazine quotes an unidentified source as saying, "Tiger just got tired of Fluff's act."

Woods did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of Cowan at La Costa. Asked whether Cowan would caddie for him at Augusta, Woods said, "I don't know. Probably."

Cowan was a perfect fit when he left Peter Jacobsen for Woods in 1996. He gave Woods tour experience that a 20-year-old lacked, knew all of the courses and was a steadying influence.

But Woods has been branching out on his own lately, as evidenced by his firing of agent Hughes Norton. Asked what primary asset he needs from a caddie now, Harmon said trust.

Cowan may have breached that by detailing his financial contract with Woods in an interview with Golf Digest. And one veteran caddie verified to Golf World reports of verbal confrontation between Woods and Cowan during the Nissan Open, the last time Cowan was on the bag.

"And I'll tell you something else," the caddie, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Golf World. "Tiger did his own yardage book at L.A., and when that happens it's a bad sign for the caddie."

Whether a breakup is imminent might not be known until Woods plays again in the Bay Hill Invitational in two weeks.

TRW