AKRON, Ohio — The lead was three shots and Adam Scott had already hit his approach relatively close. So as he approached the 18th green on a sultry Sunday afternoon, it was a drama-free walk. It was a victory march for Scott, a sweet and satisfying moment of relief and redemption and joy.
So he’ll never forget how the Bridgestone Invitational fans, who were enthusiastic despite the big lead, serenaded him with cheers as he reached the green: “Ste-vie Will-iams! Ste-vie Will-iams!”
They cheered for his caddie, Steve Williams, the man who was on the bag for the seven titles Tiger Woods won at Firestone Country Club and who, recently released from that job, was about to win there for a stunning eighth time.
All Scott could do was laugh. “I had no idea how popular a New Zealander could be here,” Scott said later. “They appreciate him a lot, I guess. It was fun to get support, whether for him or me. I don’t care, it’s the right team.”
Williams had a reputation as the opposite of a nice guy while working for Woods. Maybe it was an unfair rap, maybe it wasn’t. His job for Tiger was, in part, to act as a bouncer and to keep people away from Woods. That included the media. Williams, too, was floored by the fan reaction this week.
“Honestly, this was the greatest week of my life,” Williams told a gaggle of writers and TV types who crowded around him by the scoring trailer. “The people here have been absolutely astounding. This is the greatest week of my life caddying, and I sincerely mean that.”
Woods is the largest figure in golf, so it’s a big story that his ex-caddie helped the talented but underachieving Aussie win less than two months after they first teamed up at the U.S. Open. As big a story as Scott winning, really.
The win was huge for Scott. Maybe it was even bigger for Williams, if that’s possible. He indicated that was the case.
“It’s the most satisfying win I’ve ever had, I’m not denying that,” said Williams, who then joined in the laughter that broke out among the media.
You get fired by Woods in July. You win with Adam Scott in August when Tiger is making his much-hyped, highly-scrutinized and long-awaited return after three months off. Williams would love to say this victory was all about Adam and mean it. But winning this week, at the course where Woods has enjoyed his most success, and where he was the major focus of the event for four straight days, well, that had to feel good.
Williams didn’t editorialize much about their parting. He mostly reiterated the facts, but he did say, “I was absolutely shocked that I got the boot. I caddied for the guy for 11 years. I’ve been incredibly loyal, and I got short-shrifted. Very disappointed.”
He then detailed how he got the news, saying it was during a phone call with Woods when Williams asked to caddie for Scott. Woods didn’t agree, Williams said, and told him it was time to take a break. “In caddie lingo, that means you’re fired, simple as that,” Williams said.
It’s never simple when it’s your job, though. It’s personal. Which is why, after Scott rolled in that birdie putt he didn’t need to make on 18, Williams added the exclamation point with a fist pump. Was there a little extra emotion in that one? “Absolutely,” he said, with a big grin and a laugh.
There were murmurs about the details of the parting. Earlier in the week, Woods said he talked to Williams in a board room during the AT&T National. On Sunday, Williams said he first got the news in a phone call. It seems there were two different conversations. Williams got the news on the phone, and then he talked to Tiger in person at the AT&T about the reasons for his dismissal.
Scott and Williams have their first win in the bag. For Williams, it’s win No. 145 over 33 years of caddying. Now that this one is out of the way and Woods is back on the golf course, maybe Williams and Scott can go about the business of seeing how good their pairing can be.
Scott said you need to play like a bulldog on Sunday afternoons to win, but that intensity has always seemed to be missing from his game. So who’d he land as a caddie? The guy who excelled at being Tiger’s bulldog. You can call it a perfect pairing if you want. The fact is, Stevie’s record speaks for itself. It wasn’t bragging, just fact, when he pointed out to the assembled reporters that every player he’s caddied for, “even guys I’ve caddied for just here and there over the years,” won tournaments.
It’s practically the Stevie Williams guarantee. If he’s on your bag, you’re going to win. That can’t be a coincidence. The argument that Steve Williams might be the Tiger Woods of professional tour caddies is totally legitimate. “I guess when I caddie for someone, it’s kind of a reassurance that I know what it takes to get it done,” Williams said.
He brought that reassurance to Scott, who not only had issues with confidence but issues with his putting. Using the long putter has been a game-changing experience for him, if not life-changing. Scott didn’t make a bogey Sunday, and he made putts all over the place.
One big one came at the 10th. Then he chipped in from just off the fringe at the 12th. He rolled in another at the 14th. The biggest came at the par-3 15th, when he missed the green way left, played a pitch-and-run to 10 feet and poured the par putt in the middle of the cup. When Ryo Ishikawa three-putted for bogey, Scott suddenly had a four-shot lead.
On that chip-in at the 12th, by the way, it was Williams with the last-second reminder that the shot broke a little more than it appeared to. It’s the kind of thing great caddies do, kicking in with the golden nugget of crucial information.
This looks like the start of a great team, although Williams, with his expertise and strong personality, could make any player better.
“The very most important thing when you get the first opportunity to win is to show them that you know what you’re doing,” Williams said. “It’s easier said than done. This just validates what I told Adam, and what we’re trying to achieve. Getting the first win is very important. That takes a lot of pressure off going forward.”
Now, perhaps, we’ll finally see the best of Adam Scott on the golf course, after all these years of great expectations. Remember how similar his swing was to Tiger’s back in 2000, when Tiger was dominating the world and we waited for Scott to do something similar? After Woods switched to Hank Haney, people joked that watching Scott was the only way to see Tiger Woods’s swing.
On Sunday, we got to see and hear the best of Williams, who gave a rare interview. He was gracious, he was funny, he was engaging, he was as humble as he should have been, he was honest and he was forthright. He was utterly likable. How’s that for a sentence you didn’t think you’d ever read?
“I guess caddying for Tiger, I’ve probably been a bit unfair to the media sometimes,” Williams said. “I realize I owe you guys something.”
Things change. People and relationships change with them. Time marches on. As Williams might say, No worries, mate.