Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 7, 2011

On Adam Scott’s Bag, Steve Williams Gets First Win And Last Word

For the first time in more than a dozen years, Tiger Woods and Steve Williams were on the same golf course this weekend but not working together. After a three-month injury layoff Woods returned to the PGA Tour at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks after firing his long-time caddie.

Woods hired Williams early in 1999, after firing his first professional caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan. Cowan had made the mistake of trading on his trading on his position as caddie for the world’s #1 ranked golfer by granting golf magazine interviews and taping television commercials. Over the next twelve years, the now 47-year old from New Zealand was on the bag for 63 of Tiger’s 71 PGA Tour victories, 13 of his 14 major championships, and 16 World Golf Championship wins, including his record 7 in this event at historic Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Along the way Williams and Woods seemed to develop not just an enormously successful professional relationship but also a genuine friendship. When Williams got married in 2005, Woods flew to New Zealand to attend. The golfer was also a frequent spectator when the caddie indulged his passion for Speedway Racing, a form of stock car racing on dirt ovals popular in New Zealand and Australia.

On the golf course, Williams became known as a fierce defender of his boss’s privacy and prerogatives; once ripping a spectator’s $7,000 camera out of the man’s hands and tossing it into a lake after the offending SLR’s shutter went off while Woods was executing a shot from a greenside bunker. The fact that the incident took place not at a crucial moment in a major championship but at the made-for-television Skins Game exhibition shows just how far Williams was willing to go to give Woods the on-course atmosphere that he demanded.

But if Williams developed a reputation as a bully while toting Tiger’s clubs, it’s worth keeping in mind that Woods was never heard to criticize him for it. A successful golfer-caddie relationship is built on honesty and trust, and no pairing in the game as ever been as successful as Tiger Woods and Steve Williams. If the latter was sometimes overzealous in protecting his charge from fans and the media, one can only conclude that he was doing exactly what his boss wanted.

Still even the most successful golfer and caddie partnerships usually run their course. Jack Nicklaus and Angelo Argea seemed inseparable for nearly two decades, until the day came when they were not. Nick Faldo won multiple majors with Fanny Sunesson giving him the yardages, but well before Faldo retired to the announcer’s booth the two had parted ways. A relationship like that between Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards, which ended only with Edwards’ death from Lou Gehrig’s disease, remains exceptional.

Yet one would at least hope that if Woods was going to exercise his prerogative to decide “it’s time for a change,” as he posted on his website, that it would be handled well. But like a lot of Tiger’s public relations since Thanksgiving weekend 2009 that was not to be. With Woods out rehabbing his injured knee, Williams had sought and received his permission to caddie for Australian Adam Scott at the U.S. Open at Congressional and the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. Even as he did so rumors began to fly that a firing was imminent. With no clear denials coming from Woods, the caddie was left to dangle in the wind. After Williams again toted Scott’s bag at the AT&T National, he was informed that Woods would no longer require his services, and the post went up on Tiger’s website, along with a perfunctory thank you for “Stevie’s” service.

Williams reacted on his own website, writing that “Following the completion of the AT&T National I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change. After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger’s scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time. I have had the opportunity to work of late for Australian Adam Scott and will now caddy for him on a permanent basis. Having started my caddying career with Australian great Peter Thompson and working for Greg Norman in the 80’s I am excited about the future working for another Australian.”

Interviewed in New Zealand shortly after the firing, Williams seemed particularly upset that Woods had never made clear that his caddie had no knowledge of his extensive extramarital activities. Williams has been absolute in his insistence that he was as clueless as, well, Elin Nordegren about Tiger’s affairs. “That was the most difficult period that I’ve ever been through in my life. I’m pretty hardheaded and took it probably a lot better than my wife and family did, but there’s no way that I should have been put through that. My name should have been cleared immediately. It wasn’t and that’s what makes it even more disappointing what’s transpired. I never really got pardoned from that scandal, so the timing of it is extraordinary,” Williams said in the interview.

Williams has been a caddie for more than three decades, and in that time has built plenty of relationships on the PGA Tour. Over the past two weeks the battle for sympathy has been no contest. It’s also easy to forget that Williams is very good at what he does. Before teaming up with Woods, he carried for the likes of major winners Ian Baker-Finch, Greg Norman, and Raymond Floyd. This week he was at the Bridgestone, his first official week as Adam Scott’s caddie and Tiger’s first week back on the Tour since late spring.

Scott opened with a 62 to seize the first round lead and never looked back. Tiger played four middling rounds and finished the tournament at one over par, tied for 37th. The finish earned him $58,500. Long after Woods had finished his round and no doubt left Firestone Country Club, Adam Scott and Steve Williams came to the 18th hole with a three shot lead. On the tee Williams could be seen talking Scott out of hitting a 3-wood. The caddie dialed his new charge back to a hybrid, a club with which Scott would be virtually guaranteed to find the fairway. The tournament leader split the short grass off the tee, and then nearly holed out a 6-iron approach. After sinking the short putt for another birdie and a four-stroke win at 17-under par, Scott talked about how he had been “dialed in” all week and thanked Williams for helping him to stay that way.

Assuming their financial relationship is typical Williams’s pay for carrying Scott’s bag to a $1.4 million victory was almost 2 ½ times what his old boss made for playing. But sometimes, the chance to get even is worth more than any amount of money. In an extraordinary event, after he was done speaking with the tournament winner David Feherty of CBS interviewed his caddie. Asked how he felt, Williams said, “I’ve caddied for 33 years, 145 wins, and this is the best week of my life.” Really? The best?  Wow.

Whoever first suggested that words can hurt must have foreseen Steve Williams sticking one last sharp verbal shiv between Tiger’s ribs.

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