Flattery, of course.
“I don’t really want to have to say how great he is,” Scott said with a smile Friday, “but I did butter him up a little bit.”
Their success was undeniable: They teamed together for four years, for 12 top-15 finishes in 15 majors, for a memorable Masters victory, for three other PGA Tour wins, for the rise to world No. 1. But wanting different things at different points in their lives – Scott wanted a full-time looper; Williams, who turned 51 last winter, wanted to race cars and coach rugby – they split last September.
During the fall, Scott held tryouts for his next bagman, seeing what he liked, and what he did not, and who could provide the same spark as Williams. Eventually, last December, he hired veteran looper Mike Kerr, but they never really jelled. Not like he had with Williams.
This year, Scott played eight events and only once finished inside the top 20 – the kind of slump he never had endured with Williams on the bag. As Scott wandered through a listless season, in the prime of his career at age 35, Williams was back in New Zealand, completely removed from the game. When asked how closely he tracked his former employer’s results over the past few months, Williams said, “I don’t follow golf. Don’t watch it. Couldn’t tell you one thing. I don’t watch golf. Never have, never will.”
Scott said that, like any old friends, he checked in every so often: “But it wasn’t like I was calling him every day.” Besides, Williams was adamant that nothing could bring him out of retirement.
But one of the many things Williams taught Scott over the years was that, “if you don’t ask, you’ll never get.” And so finally, with his world ranking tumbling out of the top 10, and his putting statistics nearly last on Tour, Scott made the desperate phone call.
“I was begging and pleading for him to come out here,” he said. “Unfortunately I have to admit that.”
What helped persuade Williams to return was the fact that this year’s Open was being held at St. Andrews, where he guided Tiger Woods to decisive victories in 2000 and ’05. After a few long chats, Williams gave his old boss the OK.
“Then,” Scott said, “I had to go practice really hard so I was going to play as good as he’d expect.”
The move paid immediate dividends, as Scott closed with 64 at Chambers Bay to backdoor a top-5 finish at the U.S. Open. And now here at the Open, Scott is in line for yet another run at the claret jug, the one that got away in 2012, when he finished with four consecutive bogeys at Royal Lytham to hand the title to Ernie Els, the beginning of three consecutive top-5s at the year’s third major.
“I’m very motivated,” he said. “I definitely let that one slip, and I would love to be sitting here having won the Open … I think I’m playing with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder."
Williams appears motivated, too. At 5:30 a.m. Friday, and with only one other caddie in sight, he trudged out on the Old Course to chart the day’s pins. The process takes about an hour, and while on his way back toward the range, he got caught in the biblical storm that dropped several inches of rain and forced a three-hour delay.
“I was thinking there’s just no way we can be playing golf today,” he said. “I stood on No. 2 fairway and watched it flood in seven minutes. You couldn’t walk into the wind.”
Fortunately for Scott, the conditions weren’t quite as severe by the time he stepped to the first tee. Fighting a steady 20-mph breeze all day, he missed only one green en route to a bogey-free 67 that moved him only two strokes off the clubhouse lead.
His best two shots of the day came on the Road Hole, which finally yielded a few birdies Friday after the opening-round oh-fer. Scott’s drive that sailed over the last ‘L’ on the Old Course Hotel sign elicited a few gasps from the gallery, but he knew the strike and the line – the farthest right he could comfortably go – were perfect. With 196 yards to the flag, and just 176 to the front edge, it’s normally a stock 6-iron shot. But with a strong right-to-left wind, Scott “chipped” a 4-iron that trundled onto the green and settled about 20 feet from the flag.
“That was a very pleasing shot,” he said.
Scott nearly drove 18, and after two swats with that familiar broomstick putter, he was in the house with a flawless round, his name once again near the top of the big yellow leaderboard.
Yep, it’s just like old times, and Scott marveled at how “it feels like we’ve really hit our stride quickly.”
Good thing, because the stakes couldn’t be any higher during this three-major sprint, and their time together is running out, and both men are keenly aware of the history here, of the list of Open winners on the most revered links in the world. From Snead to Nicklaus to Ballesteros to Faldo to Woods, no course in the world has crowned elite winners quite like the Old Course.
“It’s just a golf course that requires complete control of your game,” Williams said, “and the best players in the world are the guys that have all the shots and have the complete control of their game. This course has never produced any unusual winners. St. Andrews is a great course, it’s had great champions, and this year will be nodifferent.”
The only question now is whether the Aussie can join them.
Toward the end of a Stevie-centric news conference, Scott was asked what could have been an uncomfortable question:
If Williams is not on your bag this week, are you sitting here right now?
“I’d like to think so for my own sake,” he replied, “but it was the right call for me to make at this point in the year, to get him back out and instill a bit of confidence in my game and get back in that flow.”
And now, with the team back together, everything feels possible again.