Tigers Caddie Reflects on Defining Moment at Medinah
That much was clear from an emotional embrace on the 18th green at Royal Liverpool, when Tiger Woods crumbled into the arms of Steve Williams after winning the British Open, staining his black shirt with tears the caddie knew were inevitable.
Williams was at his side when Woods buried his father in May. Two weeks earlier, Woods had flown halfway around the world to be the best man when Williams got married in New Zealand.
This wasn't what the Kiwi caddie imagined seven years ago when he started working for the world's No. 1 player.
'In my mind, it was important to do the job, and not get too friendly with him,' Williams said during a rain delay at the Buick Open, which Woods won for his 50th title on the PGA Tour, 43 of those with Williams on the bag.
'For some reason, he and I just clicked. It wasn't intentional. It's just the way it worked out.'
That hug at Hoylake can be traced to Medinah in 1999, a course outside Chicago that holds special memories for Williams and where he returns next week for the PGA Championship.
It was there, on the 17th green in the final round, when the caddie felt he finally had earned the trust of his player.
They had been together for only five months and 10 tournaments, three of them victories, none in a major. Woods had lost his No. 1 ranking and gone 2 1/2 years without a major since winning the 1997 Masters. The pressure was building that afternoon, especially when his five-shot lead over 19-year-old Sergio Garcia was down to one.
Woods hit 7-iron over the green on the par-3 17th, and his chip came up 8 feet short. Miss that putt, and his lead would be gone.
He studied the line from both sides, crouched behind the ball and then called Williams over and asked what he saw.
The caddie spoke with clarity and certainty.
'Inside left,' he told him.
'Are you sure?' Woods replied.
He buried the putt in the heart of the hole, made a routine par on the 18th and won his second major championship.
'From my perspective, that was a defining moment between a player and a caddie, when the player gains complete trust in the caddie's opinion,' Williams said. 'The 17th was such a pivotal hole for us. I remember in practice when he putted across that side of the green, every putt didn't break as much as it looked. I was 100 percent sure of the read. It was a great moment.'
And if he had been wrong?
'Then I'd probably be talking to you from the beach in New Zealand,' Williams said.
Instead, he saddled up for one of the most dominant stretches in golf. Starting with that victory at Medinah, Woods won 18 of his next 36 starts on the PGA Tour, including a stingy 7-of-11 run through the majors.
Woods' eyes lit up when reminded of Williams' read, although he said his trust was already in place.
Their first tournament was the Bay Hill Invitational in 1999. Woods tied for 56th that week, but he felt that Williams, who previously had worked for Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, was adept at reading greens.
'It was just a matter of him getting accustomed to my distances versus Raymond's distance, and that only took two weeks,' Woods said. 'After that, we were gelling pretty good. I think we won our first event in Germany that year, and from then on, we've had a pretty good run, haven't we?'
Williams felt differently.
He was desperate to prove himself a worthy caddie, starting at a time when Woods was at the tail end of a swing overhaul with Butch Harmon. Woods' best finish in their first four events was a tie for 10th at The Players Championship, the tournament David Duval won to supplant him at No. 1 in the world.
'He wasn't playing that great. It wasn't as easy as it is now,' Williams said with a laugh. 'You want to prove to the guy you can do a good job. Starting out, I felt it was important to win any tournament, and the minute we did that in Germany, and then came back and won at Memorial, that was the monkey off the back.
'We had won a tournament. We had won in America,' he said. 'The next step was to win a major.'
Those came in bushels after Medinah, and there was rarely a dull moment.
Even at Pebble Beach, where Woods won the U.S. Open by a staggering 15 shots, Williams about croaked when he realized they only had one ball left in the bag after Woods hit his tee shot into the ocean on No. 18 in the second round. He tried desperately to get Woods to hit 2-iron without explaining the circumstances, lost a heated argument, then breathed easy when his boss split the middle of the fairway.
There have been mistakes along the way, none more infamous than the 2003 Masters when Williams talked him into hitting driver on the 360-yard third hole. Woods hit it into the trees on the right, had to play left-handed back to the fairway and made double bogey to knock himself out of contention. They didn't speak for the next two hours.
'One thing I enjoy about Tiger,' Williams said. 'He knows you're trying as hard as you can and you're putting the effort in, and we all make mistakes. But there have been a few choice words.'
There also have been 10 majors, none more important than their first one at Medinah.
Williams still has an enlarged photograph of his boss holding the Wanamaker Trophy seven years ago. Woods sent it to him a few months after the PGA Championship with a personal note written in black.
'Nice read on 17.'
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.
Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore
SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.
Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.
Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.
With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.
''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''
Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.
''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.
Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.
Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.
He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''
Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.