'Stevie' unloads on TigerWith his impressive victory at Firestone, Adam Scott showed once again why many people predicted he would become a star
Now that Steve (Don't Call Me Stevie, That's What My Old Boss Called Me, and He's Dead to Me) Williams has dropped the best anti-Tiger bombs since Phil (He Hates That I Fly It Past Him) Mickelson way back in '03, predictable waves of anti-Steve Williams sentiment are coursing through the Internet.
While Williams is an easy target for his lack of proper deference to his boss, Adam Scott, and for his general me-first boorishness, I salute Williams for speaking his mind when he said the win was "the greatest week of my life" despite 13 majors with Tiger.
Don't muzzle this. Bring on more of the Tiger-Stevie Feud.
For the first time in forever, golf fans are finally hearing the unedited, unadulterated version of something Tiger-centric on the golf course. (Yes, even the most voyeuristic among us knows the unedited off-course details are plenty.) But on the course? Tiger Woods, for all his intergalactic brilliance, ran the most uninteresting, tightest-lipped show in sports.
Naturally, Tiger was never under any obligation to open his world to the media, but as fans, the feeling of getting "shut out" from any color or access to the greatest athlete of the past decade left many feeling cold.
Tiger even extended his "no fun" edict to Williams. Usually, caddies are a repository of vibrant anecdotes, valuable insights and humanizing details, not to mention club usage, yardage distances and hole strategies. Caddies tell the stories the golfer can't usually tell, and flesh out their player in ways no one else can. For years, Bones Mackay has helped writers learn more about Phil Mickelson. On a lesser scale of fame, I was present when Todd Hamilton stunningly won the '04 British Open, and his looper Ron "Bambi" Levin provided the sort of inside-the-ropes minutiae that brought Hamilton's fairytale to life.
[Related: Former caddie disses Tiger Woods]
But not Stevie when he was Tiger's man. Williams was CIA/KGB silent, complete with unpleasant attitude. It made Tiger's world feel distant and remote and hard to embrace. As a baseball fan of the San Francisco Giants, I'd liken the situation to Barry Bonds. As much as I'd try to tell anyone Bonds was the best player in the game, most of America hated the guy because of his surliness.
Tiger may not have been Bonds-like in surliness, but he certainly cultivated a press persona as boring and impenetrable. Anybody who listens to Jim Rome's radio show has heard the spliced together mock-up of a Tiger press conference, where the producers string Tiger cliches into a robotic monotone of boredom.
Tiger's way is not unprecedented in sports. The case of Bill Belichick is a decent analogy, too – a winner like no other, but not somebody who you'd wrap in a warm bear hug.
Sports fans do have a choice. One could say "I couldn't care less" if Tiger opened his world to the public, and simply admire the man's greatness. Or, fans looking for a human connection could find him hard to get behind.
Tiger was never the heavy, per se, in shutting out the public. He used Stevie for that, whether it be sneering at reporters, snapping at fans or, famously, dropping one photographer's camera into a water hazard.
So for Steve Williams, fresh off his sacking from Tiger, to guide the super-talented but questionably-motivated Adam Scott to a dominant four-shot win at the Bridgestone Invitational, steering his man 18 shots clear of Tiger, and to not only grant an interview to CBS but also call it "the best win I've ever had," well, there was more than a little juicy, nasty gossip to go around.
Williams didn't let up when the cameras went off the air. He told writers around the 18th green at Firestone that Tiger, in fact, had told him they "needed a break" over the phone, not in person. He claimed the face-to-face meeting with Tiger was only to hash out details, and that Tiger's phone-dumping wasn't as noble as Tiger made it out to be.
[Photos: See more of golf star Tiger Woods]
And yes, if this sounds like junior high, your ears do not deceive. So rare to get this from a Tiger story!
One aspect of the criticism of Williams stands true: He should have prefaced his comments by praising Scott's play. Had he told David Feherty, "All credit to Adam Scott, he played beautifully, what a class act …" and then called it the greatest of all his wins, it'd have been a perfect coda to the Tiger-Stevie drama.
As it was, Williams talked only about himself, and even drew a dubious analogy to his own racing career in New Zealand and how he's only comfortable finishing first in either arena. The analogy seemed laughable since Scott – not Williams – was on record having made every one of the 263 strokes over four days necessary for victory.
But that's the key: Williams is not a hero in this drama. He's only to be praised for speaking out and giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of Tiger's world. It does not speak highly of Tiger's interpersonal relationship skills to have a man he made very rich and very famous unload on him like that. Similarly, it does not speak highly of Williams' moral fiber to unload on a man who made him very rich and very famous.
So, a pox on both houses, right? Either way, we get a little bit of the real story from Tiger's world. For once.
Scorecard of the week
• 62-70-66-65 – 17-under 263, Adam Scott, winner, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio.
Even if Steve Williams is still behind the 18th green talking about his auto racing career, and even if nobody remembers who won the darn event, man alive can Adam Scott turn it on when he wants.
Times like these give rise to the memories of when Scott first came on tour in 2003, a student of Butch Harmon with the prettiest, soundest swing anyone had seen since … wait for it … his bag man's old boss.
In fact, the Adam Scott/Tiger Woods comparisons ran amok back in '03. Many felt Scott would be a logical challenger to Woods' throne, with his implacable demeanor and a mirror-image swing.
One part of the analysis was overlooked: his putter.
Starting with an epic 19-hole match Scott and Woods had in '03 at the La Costa Match Play, the Aussie continually has met his demise on the putting green. In that semifinal match in '03, Scott matched Tiger haymaker for haymaker until the 19th hole when he lipped out a 36-incher to extend the match. Back in those days, you'd sooner see Tiger Woods on the cover of the National Enquirer than you would see him miss a 3-footer with the match on the line.
Though Scott would rack up seven wins over the next seven years, including a Players Championship title, he'd never win a major and became more known for two things: a drastically underperforming flat stick and ability to bag some of the world's most famous babes, including actress Kate Hudson and tennis star Ana Ivanovic. Scott's handsome magnetism even coaxed a public admission from Maria Sharapova that she'd like to do a little looping for the Aussie, if you get my drift.
It's great and all that the guy can score with the chicks. However, golf fans felt like Scott was yet another player – along with Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell III and the rest of the Classes of 1999-2009 – who never cashed in on his potential in the Tiger Era.
His work at Firestone last week was resplendent, including ranking sixth in the field in driving distance and tied for nith in the field in greens in regulation. Ball-striking, however, has never been Scott's problem. The statistic that makes even Steve Williams stop talking about himself is this: Scott ranked fourth in the field in putting.
At one point, when Scott lagged a 40-footer to six inches for a tap-in par, David Feherty said on CBS: "Talk about a transformation."
This is not to say that Scott – who now uses a belly putter, always an atrocious look – can now putt like Brad Faxon. It is to say that on those fleeting weeks when Scott can roll it, he's one of the five best players in the world.
Firestone was one of those weeks, as Williams happily noticed.
One final note: Scott was asked about the Woods-Williams feud and about Williams' pointed words after the round. Maybe Scott's best par save of the week came with this simple, mature answer: "I'm not involved in that … They'll figure that out themselves. They're both men."
Well played, winner. Well played.
Mulligan of the week
• It's so easy to get caught up in over-analyzing Tiger's return to action – so easy, in fact, that most of us did.
By that, I mean the reaction to his Thursday 68. More than a few golf observers dared say, "He's back!" Especially when Tiger rolled in a couple of 30-footers to keep his round under par.
In fairness to Tiger, asking him to contend on a Sunday in his first event in three months might have been asking too much. Adrenaline rushes, blood flows and rustiness in all facets of the game come to the surface.
However, the mistake in analyzing Tiger in the post-Tiger Era has always been to look at a small sample size. Ever since the Escalade hit the tree and the aura disappeared, Tiger has had his moments, to be sure. His cut 3-wood from the fairway on 18 in the third round of the 2010 Pebble Beach U.S. Open was one of the greatest shots of his life. He has contended on a Sunday in both the 2010 and 2011 Masters. He has played some darn good golf, at times.
The thing he has NOT done is play darn good golf for 72 holes, and to get caught up in a decent Thursday anymore is the wrong take for Tiger.
We can't fully analyze his game or his mind or his putter or his driver until we watch him contend for 72 holes, not 18, or 36 or even 63. Shoot, he made the turn at Augusta National in April on Sunday TIED FOR THE LEAD. Did we all forget that?
He hasn't finished yet, in the post-Tiger Era.
And his week at Firestone featured all the misgivings of the post-Tiger Era: errant tee shots, lousy putts and a general lack of the savage attack so characteristic of his game.
He heads to the PGA Championship this week as a middle-of-the-pack guy, even though Bubba Watson threw some red meat to the media by saying he "wouldn't be surprised" if Tiger won at Atlanta Athletic Club. Sorry, Bubba. We ain't buying it.
So, for all golf observers, fans and media who proclaimed Tiger "back" after the Thursday 68 … give everyone a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• "I've caddied for 33 years, for 145 wins now, and that's the best win I ever had." – Steve Williams, caddie to Adam Scott, on CBS to David Feherty after Scott won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
What, you thought I'd go with Peter Kostis' Konica Minolta Biz Hub SwingVision breakdown of Ryo Ishikawa's move?
Paul Azinger went on Twitter and criticized Williams for giving the interview, but I credit CBS for chasing the story. They could have easily soft-pedaled it and gone with the theory that caddies don't do national TV interviews, but this was clearly a story everyone in America wanted to hear.
Jim Nantz greeted the comments with a "Wow … That will be talked about for days to come," while Nick Faldo added: "I'm a little shocked … That's quite a little more than a dig in there, I'd say."
One aspect to watch regarding all this: Will all the media fallout and brouhaha affect the serene vibe around Scott's golf game right now? Scott is not the type to court controversy, and it will be a challenge for him to remain steady amid the major championship hype over Williams' trash talk come this week's PGA Championship.
Where do we go from here?
• We go to "Glory's Last Shot!" The PGA Championship has given us some of the best golf stories of the past decade.
The tour returns to Atlanta Athletic Club, where David Toms won his only major with perhaps the greatest lay-up in major championship history, edging Phil Mickelson by a stroke in 2001. Back then, Lefty was still major-less, so he came under intense and heavy fire for admitting that a bad read on the back nine came after he heard a fan advise him on the speed of the greens.
Back then, it was hard to imagine Mickelson would ever win a major, so tragic was the guy's luck.
Ninety-eight of the top 100 players in the world will be staining the backside of their trousers in the Georgia heat and humidity, including last year's tragic PGA Championship figure, Dustin Johnson. Good news for Dustin: Bunkers are clearly marked at Atlanta Athletic Club.
More good news for Dustin: Focus on the anniversary of his bunker mishap is sure to be overshadowed by Stevie-Gate.
Final thought: If Williams guides Scott to his first major championship, will he tell the media it's the SECOND greatest win of his career?
It'll be fun, either way.
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