AKRON, Ohio — It’s not unusual for Stevie Williams to have his player near the lead at Firestone Country Club during the Bridgestone Invitational.
Of course, that’s when he was the jockey riding Tiger Woods, who made an annuity out of this event. Now Williams is working for Adam Scott, but it’s the same old story. On a day when Tiger’s return was the all-encompassing story, Scott birdied four of his last six holes to shoot 62 and take the first-round lead Thursday afternoon.
So let’s sum it up: Tiger fires Stevie. Adam hires Stevie. Tiger returns. Adam leads the tournament.
The golf writers covering this event are practically bathing in the irony, not to mention the free potato chips in the lunchroom. If the irony were running any thicker here, it would probably be … ironic.
The easy-going, pleasant Scott is well aware of it. He’s riding it like a surfer on a wave and enjoying the heck out of it so far.
“He just seems to have a lot of good rounds in him around this place, that’s for sure,” Scott said of Williams. After the laughter subsided, Scott said, “He didn’t think it was a big deal to shoot 62. It was normal.”
All things Tiger, of course, cry out for headlines in this Tiger-centric golf universe. Scott fielded more questions about Tiger and Stevie than he did about his round. With any luck, that topic will be a moot point the rest of the week now that Scott has addressed it. But every day Scott plays well here, he’s going to get asked how big of a factor Stevie was in the success. It is inevitable.
“I think he really understands how to manage a game well around the golf course,” said Scott, who split with long-time caddie Tony Navarro before he got together with Williams at the U.S. Open. “That was really obvious to me. He’s got a few little notes in his yardage book about breaks on greens and stuff like that, so he has a great knowledge of this golf course, for sure.”
It is always difficult to quantify a caddie’s skills, especially one who worked for the phenomenon of his generation, Woods. Perhaps Williams played a bigger role than most realized. He and Scott are off to a terrific start.
“I think he believes in my game, that I can be one of the best players in the world,” Scott said. “He thinks he can help me achieve that and I believe that, too. So it’s just very positive energy and good motivation. Everything is very positive and confident with Steve so far, and that’s hopefully rubbing off on me.
“That’s how it is at the start — it’s like a little honeymoon period,” Scott continued. He’s given me a lot of insight from his perspective and that’s been appreciated. He’s been very honest with me about what he thinks of my game. He thinks I can be as good as player as I want to be, but he’s adamant that you’ve got to put the work in, and he sees that I am putting in the work. But he’s fairly blunt in his assessment of my chipping, and I’m going to work on it.”
Could Williams be more blunt than Scott’s former teacher Butch Harmon? Scott laughed that one off.”It would be close. There’s a lot of bluntness going on there,” he said.
The arrival of Williams coincides with Scott’s maturity as a wielder of the long putter. He’s been using it for months now and finally has reached a new level of confidence. If Scott should be considered an underachiever, given his beautiful swing (still the only place to see Tiger’s old Butch-influenced swing) and nice tempo, the reason is his short game.
Scott’s chipping has been an issue for a long time. He won the 2004 Players Championship after working hard with Greg Norman on his technique, and it was the clutch pitch shot that he hit relatively close on the 72nd hole — after dunking his approach in the water — that enabled him to hole the winning putt. He’s also had issues with the putter in the last two years and now, finally, may have an answer.
“I hole out the ball so much better this year,” Scott said of his long wand. “I’m not too worried about a four-footer coming back or leaving one four feet short, because I feel like I’m going to make that one now. In saying that, I haven’t holed as many 25-foot-plus putts. It’s a work in progress, but I feel very comfortable.”
Scott had eight birdies, no bogeys in the opening round. He’s one ahead of fellow Aussie Jason Day, three ahead of Nick Watney. Not that it matters right now, but, ahem, he’s six ahead of Woods.
Scott said he hasn’t seen Woods this week or talked to him. He did see him at the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia and they talked, but that was before he knew anything was amiss between Tiger and Stevie. And it was before rumors spread that one of the reasons for the breakup was Williams working for Scott at Aronimink. Scott doesn’t think anything about the situation should cause awkwardness between himself and Tiger, and he hopes it doesn’t. This is just standard operating procedure on the tour, he said, where almost every caddie-player relationship ends in a breakup. So he’s treating it like it’s just another split, no big deal.
“We should be good,” Scott said of Woods.
As far as answering more questions about Williams, that means Scott will be playing well. He should be good with that, too.