CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tiger Woods won't be at the Wells Fargo Championship this week, but his caddie will.
Or, rather, his former caddie.
Joe LaCava, who has been on the bag for Woods since 2011 and helped him win his fifth Masters title in 2019, has accepted a full-time caddying role with Patrick Cantlay, who is currently No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. It's not clear whether it's an indication that Woods, who underwent surgery last month after making the cut at the Masters but withdrawing before the third round, is done for the season.
"When I reached out to Joe, he said it was possible," Cantlay said, "and it ended up working out and I'm really happy about it."
Justin Thomas, who is close friends with Woods, said he isn't sure when the 15-time major champion will return to play competitive golf. However, Thomas called LaCava one of the most loyal people he knows, adding that he has remained true to Woods while he battled through a series of injuries, including a broken leg from a car crash in 2021.
"I don't know the details and don't know how long it is or what's going on, but I know that that's something that would never ever, ever be done if Tiger would not OK that," Thomas said. "That's not the kind of guy Joe is, not the kind of guy Tiger is, and same with Patrick. There definitely was some kind of conversation that went on there."
Cantlay said he has not spoken directly to Woods about the hire.
Thomas said he understands why LaCava would want to get back to work, comparing his competitive nature to Bones Mackay, who was Phil Mickelson's caddie for a quarter-century but has been with Thomas since late 2021 in a run that includes a victory at last year's PGA Championship.
LaCava told the PGA Tour he wasn't actively looking for a job, saying: "I missed it and I wanted to work more. He knows me well enough, and I know him well enough, that we know it's hopefully/probably going to work."
Cantlay, 31, has won eight times on the PGA Tour, and in 2021 he won the FedEx Cup and was named player of the year. He's still seeking his first major championship — the next chance comes at the PGA Championship in two weeks at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York — and Cantlay's hope is LaCava's experience in big events will help get him over the hump.
He recently split with veteran caddie Matt Minister after the Zurich Classic in New Orleans after he and playing teammate Xander Schauffele tied for fourth.
"We accomplished a lot together and I'm really proud of all we accomplished," Cantlay said. "He's a great friend of mine, and we had a lot of good finishes together and a lot of wins. So I'm incredibly grateful to him. Just needed a change."
FanDuel Sports book listed Cantlay at 13-1 odds to win the Wells Fargo Championship, which tees off Thursday at Quail Hollow Club. That's second only to Rory McIlroy (7-1 odds), who has won the tournament three times (2010, 2015, 2021) and is returning to competition for the first time since missing the cut at the Masters a month ago.
The tourney's reigning champion is seventh-ranked Max Homa, whose victory last year came at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland; Quail Hollow Club did not have the event because it was preparing to host the Presidents Cup last fall.
However, Homa earned his first PGA Tour tourney victory in the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.
"I love this golf course," Homa said. "The tournament is run really well, everything about this place is first class. I love coming to Charlotte."
This is considered one of the 12 elevated events on the PGA Tour, but it will not include the world's top two golfers because Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler both used their one allotted opt-out, leaving McIlroy as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3.
McIlroy opted out of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the start of the year, and he also missed the RBC Heritage the week after the Masters because he said he needed a "reset" after missing the cut at Augusta National.
The four-time major champion indicated the stresses that engulfed the PGA Tour over the last year — including player defections to the LIV Golf League and setting up a new schedule for 2024 — have weighed heavily on him while serving as player director for the PGA Tour's policy board.
"I've always thought I've had a good handle on the perspective on things and sort of where golf fits within my life, and trying to find purpose outside of golf in some way," McIlroy said. "But I think over the last 12 months, I sort of lost sight of that. I'd lost sight of the fact that there's more to life than the golf world and this little silly squabble that's going on between tours, and all sorts of stuff."
Just the same, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced Wednesday that McIlroy will not receive the remaining $3 million of his bonus from the Player Impact Program.
McIlroy finished second to Tiger Woods in PIP, which measures a player's popularity and impact on tour. The 33-year-old from Northern Ireland was set to make $12 million, but that payout was reduced by 25% because he missed a second elevated event.
Monahan said he completely understands McIlroy's need to be refreshed, but he emphasized the rules are "cut and dried."
"Players should be able to make a decision not to play. That's the beauty of our model," Monahan said. "But he knows the consequences of that based on that criteria. And that's our position."