ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Steve Williams moves fast.
On pretty much every hole, he's the first guy down the fairway, hustling 10, 20, sometimes 30 yards ahead of his boss, Adam Scott. This is despite the fact that he's carrying a heavy bag and he's going to turn 50 this year. Friday, during the second round of the PGA Championship, the caddy even picked up Justin Rose's bag and carried that from the 6th green to the 7th hole before anyone else had arrived.
He's a racer, Williams. On his website, he lists and pictures his racing exploits first, even though he's far more famous (and rich) for his place alongside Scott and, previously, Tiger Woods. Golf is a plodding sport, yet here's a guy who seems perpetually ready to run. Asked for an interview after Friday's round, Williams said, "What do you need?" and began hustling away as if late for a flight.
We all know the caddy doesn't swing a club, but it's hard not to notice that Adam Scott is now playing the way Tiger Woods played when Williams was on his bag. Scott is doing this week what Woods always did: sprint out to an early lead and leave the rest of the players looking up at the leaderboard (until Jason Dufner fired a 7-under 63 to take the outright lead). Scott ended his second round with the outright lead at 7-under and afterward said, quite sincerely, that he felt he left some strokes out there. (Scott heads into the weekend two strokes back of Dufner, who is 9-under.) We all know who that sounds like.
Scott's record is markedly better since he hired Williams in 2011. He broke through and won his first major at the Masters this year, but he's also been more consistently in contention. He's a regular at the top of the leaderboard, not just a tourist, and his world ranking has shot up from 17 in 2011 to No. 5.
And there's something else: a new urgency. "I was hungry before the Masters and I might even have a bigger appetite after it," Scott said Friday. "It might be greedy, but I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career, and I'm going to keep pushing until I do. My game is in great shape. I've got to take advantage of it. Otherwise, it's all a waste."
That's an edge that doesn't come across in Scott's chilled-out appearance. It's Williams who's the tempestuous one, famous for taking verbal shots at Woods and Phil Mickelson and (of course) for chucking a photographer's camera into a pond. Friday morning, as the rain pelted the Oak Hill course here and all the other caddies scrambled for their jackets, Williams stood out there in his usual shirt and shorts as if he was on Maui. The man was ready to race.
And so was Scott. He chipped in on the very first hole (starting on the back nine) to move to 6-under, then birdied 13 and 16 to gain two more strokes on the field. He's shot 65 and 68 in a 24-hour span when a lot of the best players in the world won't shoot that low in a single round this weekend.
Most of the credit goes to Scott, of course. He's doing the proverbial heavy lifting even if not the actual heavy lifting. Yet Williams is a force in this, too. It was Williams who read the winning putt at the Masters, insisting the break was more than Scott thought. Scott gave him full credit for the single most important stroke of his life.
And it should be noted that Williams has been on the bag for 14 major wins – 13 with Woods, one with Scott – believed to be the most of any caddie in history.
"He's got a process in how he likes to caddy," Scott said Friday. "He's had a lot of success. I'm sure he's learned some stuff along the way. He's extremely conservative but he relies on me playing from conservative spots and trying to eliminate big numbers."
This is important when playing with a lead in a major. Let the other guys blow up. As Jack Nicklaus himself preached (via his coach, Jack Grout), don't turn a mistake into a disaster. Williams has helped Scott avoid the 7s and 8s that can doom an entire championship. At times in the past, that has happened to Scott.
"It was like I was banging my head against the wall each time I was out there," he said. "Six months can slip away from you and the confidence is gone."
There was peril Friday. Scott was 8-under with three holes to play and then missed a makeable par putt on the seventh. Then he sprayed his tee shot out to the right on the eighth and a little kid picked up the ball. This could have been trouble.
Scott got a drop on some trampled grass and peered out toward the pin. Williams slid over and looked with him. It was 130 to the green. Forget getting any loft here; it would have to be a screamer. The men agreed: 5-iron.
Scott blistered a low ripper that didn't look like it got more than six feet off the ground. The ball skidded along the wet apron to the front, and stopped on the green. Scott allowed a sly grin as he watched his ball roll to about eight feet from the pin.
Williams, by then, had already grabbed the bag and raced ahead. Then he stopped, turned, extended an arm for a fist bump, and then hurried off again.
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