Tiger Woods stared down a tricky par putt on the 71st hole of the 1999 PGA Championship. After two years of building a new and improved swing with Butch Harmon, his historic 1997 Masters victory was becoming a distant one-off, and now his big lead had dwindled to a single stroke.
Standing on the 17th green at Medinah, Woods read a line that was just outside the hole. No, caddie Steve Williams told him, the line is just inside the hole. Stevie’s tone of finality made all doubt disintegrate.
Woods played it just inside the hole, sank the putt, won the PGA and rolled on to 12 more major championships with Williams at his side over the next decade. He was just that good.
Woods? Or Williams? Yes.
There is no way to definitively identify Golf’s Greatest Caddie. The golfer-caddie relationship is symbiotic. Only the player truly understands how big the caddie’s role is. The rest of us merely use numbers and appearances. Employing those criteria, the only possible answer is Williams.
He has been on the bag for 146 wins (by his count, which is undoubtedly as accurate as his yardages). Tiger Woods won 14 majors. So did Williams, 13 with Tiger and one with Adam Scott.
Jim (Bones) Mackay has enjoyed a beautiful run with Phil Mickelson that has seen four majors and 50-some wins. Peter Coleman was a European tour caddie whose 70-some wins included two Masters and 30 other victories with Bernhard Langer, plus wins with Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman and Nancy Lopez.
You can argue it’s all about the player, not the jockey, and yes, maybe even Grumpy Cat could’ve ridden Secretariat to the Triple Crown. But you cannot argue with the Williams record. It’s every bit as dominant as Tiger’s.
So it is worth noting that Scott, who has struggled since Williams left him last September, will drag the 51-year-old caddie out of retirement for this summer’s majors.
Williams scored his first caddie gig at 13 with five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson. Later he landed Norman’s bag for seven years, during which he really learned his craft. Williams moved on to Raymond Floyd for a decade and, finally, to Tiger. The secret to dealing with big players and big personalities is to be right most of the time, and no one worked harder to make sure he was right than Williams.
He was the perfect bag man for Woods. Williams was a Rottweiler with swagger and a bully when needed. He scolded fans. He confiscated cameras.
One of his trademark moves was to plant his man’s golf bag as close as possible to the right marker on the tee box, so when righthanded players teed up on that side, Tiger’s name in big letters on the bag would be in their faces. It was intimidating and intentional, and Woods loved it.
For the mild-mannered Scott, Williams brings much-needed bark. He went to work for the Aussie after curiously being fired by Woods, and together Scott and Williams won impressively at the Bridgestone and then, of course, at the 2013 Masters.
You remember that finish? It’s the second playoff hole against Angel Cabrera, the Augusta light is fading badly and Scott has a potential winning putt. He thinks it will break a cup to the left. No, no, Williams tells him, it will snap at least two cups.
Williams was right, of course. Nobody has done it better.