Steve Williams didn't hit any of the shots during his new boss Adam Scott's victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, but the way he soaked up the spotlight and indulged the media afterward you'd think he did. That's a no-no for caddies, and Williams will take some criticism for milking his moment, but really, what choice did he have? Fans in Akron chanted "Stev-ie Will-iams" as a gesture of support for the veteran caddie, whom Tiger Woods fired in July.
Williams has been a caddie for 33 years, racking up 145 victories, 72 of which came with Woods — including 13 majors. He knows he doesn't hit the shots, even though he called himself "a good front-runner" (which was odd) after Scott's win. Williams also knew what he was doing when he complained publicly after being fired, and when he said Sunday that Scott's triumph was "the best win I've ever had."
The question is, what is Williams trying to say? Answer: He's saying Woods is unchanged, and after all the swing changes, portfolio damage, apologies and promises to become a better man, that's the biggest disappointment of all.
This seems like a good place to admit I don't know Woods, I never have, and I probably never will. Behind closed doors he might have changed. But it doesn't look like it from here, and not from where Williams sits, either. He's not complaining about being fired because he's worried about missing a paycheck.
Williams stuck with Woods the last few years not just for the promise of better times, but also because after having his world turned upside-down Woods was surely going to grow into a better version of himself. Williams had to have hoped for as much. He and Woods were in each other's weddings. They'd bungee-jumped and raced cars together. They'd talked about life in between the forgettable shots that make up even the most momentous major championship win. The caddie was invested personally in Woods as well as professionally because that's what happens when you're part of a two-man corporation for 12 years.
As part of the deal, Williams didn't do interviews, although it's now clear that he is not averse to them. Ever mindful of the sanctity of the Woods bubble, Williams famously threw a press photographer's camera in a pond. He played the bad guy so his boss wouldn't have to, and took the blame on the rare occasions when Woods called Williams out publicly for strategic blunders.
Winning made up for the relationship's shortcomings, until the winning stopped. But if there was a silver lining in the cloud that moved over Woods the day after Thanksgiving 2009, it was that Tiger promised to abandon his "selfish" behavior. There were many weeks when he earned Williams in excess of $100,000, but that promise was worth something, too. People remembered it. Williams no doubt remembered it. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said at the 2010 Masters that Woods would be measured by "the sincerity of his efforts to change." So when he spat on the green in Dubai a year later and he was ripped for it, Woods apologized. He hit a skanky hook off the ninth tee at Bay Hill earlier this year and angrily spiked his driver into the turf. What happened to the new Tiger?
Williams will write a book one day, and he says his stretch with Woods will make for "an interesting chapter." It will be more than interesting, and more than a chapter. Even giving him a free pass for on-course decorum, Woods still seems to cling to the cynical idea that in his relationship with the public, the brand (and the dollar) is what matters. He has divorced his wife, parted ways with his swing coach, left his management company, and fired his caddie, but, tellingly, one person remains from Tiger's pre-implosion inner circle: his agent, Mark Steinberg.
Again, Woods has made it impossible to know him, but if someone had said five years ago he would cut the rope on every person around him except for one, whom would you have pegged as the lone survivor? Steinberg. So what exactly has changed? To read between the lines of Williams's comments, nothing. Only profound personal disappointment could have compelled such a veteran to say he'd lost "a tremendous amount of respect" for Woods instead of taking his pink slip like a man and going quietly. Only a legend with a toxic image problem could have made Williams the most popular person at Firestone just by firing him.
At the start of the Woods unraveling, Esquire writer Chris Jones wrote a searing piece in which he revealed his brother's infidelity, and recalled what would become a monumentally depressing 2003 assignment to write a magazine feature about Woods. For a long time Jones got nowhere. "I was chasing ether," he wrote. Finally, he caught up to Woods as he enjoyed a rare moment of levity in a tour locker room, albeit off-the-record levity. Jones asked him: Why didn't Woods show that side? Why not be real? Woods walked away, but not before replying: "Do I have to?" The kicker to Jones's piece: "You do now, my brother."
Great line, but as the Williams affair illustrates, it hasn't turned out that way.