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.'
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”