During the 12 years he worked for Tiger Woods, caddie Steve Williams was the enforcer.
No cameras were safe. No restless reporters, either. Children crying during Woods’ backswing might even have gotten a steely stare from Woods’ personal thug.
But when Williams walked up the 18th fairway at Firestone Country Club Sunday carrying the bag of Bridgestone Invitational winner Adam Scott, he was the one the crowd was cheering.
Apparently all it took for Williams to become a sympathetic figure was to be fired by the world’s former No. 1 player.
The 18th green sounded like a football game and Williams was Bernie Kosar. A chant of “Stev-ie Williams” broke out. More than one “Tiger who?” came from the bleachers. “How do you like him now, Tiger?” a man yelled, piercing a moment of silence. When Williams let Scott’s bag topple over, one chided, “Act like you’ve been here before, Stevie.” Shouted another, “We love you Steve.’’
“I had no idea how popular a New Zealander can be,” joked Scott, an Australian. “Surprising.”
“Obviously, he’s a popular guy around here having won eight times,” Scott said after his 4-shot victory, referring to Woods’ seven Bridgestone Invitational titles with Williams. “They appreciate him a lot, I guess, and he’s a bit of a character. It was fun to get support, whether it’s me or him, I don’t care, it’s the right team.”
The whole scene was surreal, right down to Williams being interviewed on the 18th green by CBS, then later being mobbed by media during a nearly nine-minute interview beside the scoring trailer. Veteran PGA Tour reporters said they’d never seen anything like it.
“That’s the best week of my life. I’ve been caddying for 33 years, 145 wins, and that’s the best win I’ve ever had,” said Williams, 47.
Williams won 13 major championships and millions of dollars with Woods. Scott hired Williams to work for him on an interim basis starting at the U.S. Open, when Woods was sidelined with left knee and Achilles injuries. Williams even disputed Sunday what Woods said Tuesday, that he personally fired Williams after the AT&T National on July 3.
“He called me up when I asked him to go and caddie for Adam and he didn’t agree with it and thought it was time to take a break,” Williams said. “In caddie lingo, that means you’re fired.”
Now Scott finds himself entangled in the emotional divorce of Woods and Williams. Emotional, at least, on Williams’ side. To some it might seem unfair to Scott.
“I expected it as soon as people found out he was going to fill in for me at the U.S. Open,” Scott said. “I’ve pretty much been hammered with questions about him. That’s all right. I can talk about Steve now and not Tiger. I’m sure there are a lot of other golfers who wouldn’t mind that, either.”
The soap opera drama of the Williams-Woods divorce should die down eventually, but maybe not the talk about who will get the last laugh. On Sunday, it was Williams. Eventually, it could be Scott.
Scott, 31, has always been considered somewhat of an underachiever, his victories never matching his talent. Sunday’s World Golf Championships triumph was his seventh official victory on the PGA Tour, along with 10 more internationally. Although he’s now 6-for-8 when leading after 54 holes, he had never led or shared the lead after all three rounds and prevailed.
Now with a victory in just his fourth event with Williams on the bag, there is the perception that Williams might be what Scott needed to reach his potential. In their other three events together, Scott missed the cut at the U.S. Open, tied for third at the AT&T National and tied for 25th at the British Open.
“Just because you’re a good caddie doesn’t mean that you’re the one who can put a good player over the top,” Williams said. “You’ve got to gel. Adam was a friend of mine off the course, so I was fairly confident we’d get along pretty good. It’s obviously like a dream come true.”
Scott admitted that Williams made him play more like a bulldog, made him step on his opponents’ throats and seize the moment when he had the chance Sunday. Scott reeled off four birdies on the back nine to distance himself from Rickie Fowler, Luke Donald, Ryo Ishikawa and Jason Day.
“He really fills me with confidence,” Scott said. “We all know [Williams’] personality in those situations. It’s almost like I need to show him I’ve got it in me because a lot of people question it.”
Williams isn’t through questioning it. Having also worked for Raymond Floyd and Greg Norman, Williams said he considers himself on the downside of his career and wants to help Scott win a major. And Williams will be a bulldog, too, pushing Scott.
“I stressed to him that if you want me to come and caddie for you full time, you’ve got to sit down and do some hard work because that’s what I expect,” Williams said. “I see some weaknesses in his game … I’ve been very adamant … I’ve been pointing out the weaknesses.”
But Williams said when he saw Scott warming up on the range before the final round, he knew it was their day. But he didn’t stop pushing.
Even at 18, when Scott arrived with a 3-shot lead and planned to dump a 7-iron onto the right side of the green, Williams would have none of it.
“He said, ‘What are you talking about? Hit a 6-iron straight at the pin,’ ” Scott said. “It was a good call and I hit a great shot. He sees those lines and he gets me to go for it.”
Scott stuck his shot 5 feet from the pin and sank the putt for birdie during a bogey-free round of 65.
Working for Woods, Williams has already witnessed a level of golf that the world might not have seen before. His reaction to Scott’s victory — calling it the “most satisfying win I’ve ever had” and “I sort of believe in destiny sometimes”— could have been fueled by revenge. He got the chance to stick it to Woods in an $8.5 million tournament.
Or perhaps Williams got another glimpse of a player coming into his own Sunday.
He, of all people, ought to know.