|Steve Williams instills confidence in his new player, and Adam Scott is responding. (Getty Images)|
AKRON, Ohio -- There were color TVs in two corners of the room, so when the Thursday coverage of the Bridgestone Invitational began just as Adam Scott took a chair in the media center, he had to steal a glance.
Up on the screen, highlights of Tiger Woods' round were being shown, including the 2-footer that the former world No. 1 missed on Friday.
"He missed that?" Scott said absentmindedly.
Then the broadcast action shifted to coverage of Phil Mickelson, who showed up at Firestone Country Club wearing pink pants. When the levelheaded Scott saw Mickelson on the screen, he could hardly contain himself. In fact, he didn't.
"Pretty, isn't it?" he said, drawing huge laughs.
In many regards, the affable Aussie has been chasing Woods and Mickelson for his entire career, although that very well might be changing this week -- if not down the not-too-distant road called the PGA Tour.
"It's an interesting time in golf, and a lot of guys right now feel like there's an opportunity to stand up and be that guy," Scott said. "It'll be interesting to see if anyone can do it."
Why not Scottie?
The popular 31-year-old not only has some new artillery to bring to the battle, but a new sergeant at arms, a guy with more than a passing familiarity with this venue and the tour road in general.
After two years of mostly meandering in the wilds, his putting stroke a nervy mess, Scott switched to a long putter in the spring and contended until the final moments at the Masters. Last month, in a development that generated more noise than when Scott was romantically linked to Kate Hudson, he picked up Steve Williams as his caddie after the Kiwi was cut loose after 12 years of service with Woods.
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Scott has been around forever, it seems, and has spent his entire career chasing Woods, if not living in his shadow. Like a slew of other guys who qualify as stars, but haven't exactly been dominant figures, Scott is queued up and looking to supplant players like Woods and Mickelson.
Particularly Woods, who has been ranked No. 1 for the vast majority of Scott's career.
"For guys who, even like myself who wasn't even close to that level back then, this is my opportunity now ... because until someone is that much better, then it's wide open really," he said. "That's what I feel like. This is an opportunity for everyone."
Step right up? Scott certainly has.
He started with a 62 at Firestone on Thursday, the lowest opening round in tournament history, and followed with an even-par 70 on Friday that left him tied for the lead as the afternoon wave was underway.
Having a steady hand on the bag and steady hands on the green have certainly made a big difference for Scott, who is ranked 17th in the world.
He decided in the first round that he wanted to stand on the gas from the start, and blistered Firestone -- there was only one player inside of three strokes of his lead. Williams, of course, has rather famously had some good results around here, having collected the symbolic winner's flag at the 18th hole seven different times while employed by Woods.
"He seems to have a lot of good rounds in him around this place, that's for sure," Scott said after the first round. "He didn't think it was a big deal to shoot 62. It was normal."
There has been little normalcy with Scott's putting, which at times over the years has been cringe-inducing. He has long had one of the most elegant, technique-perfect swings in the game, but it would be difficult to find an elite player who has been worse from inside five feet on the greens.
Scott added the long putter in the spring, and once he started rolling in bombs at Augusta National, his peers on the practice green the following weeks looked more like hotel maids than golf pros -- many had busted out broom-sized models employed by Scott and were sweeping away, experimenting, hoping for comparable results.
Williams, of course, is a far more proven commodity. He was on the bag for 13 of Woods' majors, and even given the bitter water under the bridge regarding his unceremonious separation from Woods, has been downright chipper this week.
If Scott wins, it'll be interesting to see how Williams reacts, because he'll have plenty of reasons to stick out his chest, if not gloat just a little.
Not only has Scott seemed to be a different man this year, thanks to holing a few more putts, Williams seems to have been somewhat defanged, too. One thing is certain, the Kiwi caddie has moved from one of the most demanding bosses in the game to one of the most-liked personalities on tour.
Williams quickly took stock of Scott's game, and being a man who sees things only in black and white and speaks his mind with no filter, told Scott in no uncertain terms that his short game needed work, but has also been puffing him up all week with encouragement.
You read it right -- the former pit bull has been a puppy dog, issuing pep talks and channeling positive mojo toward Scott in an attempt to help the talented Aussie become the player Williams believes he is capable of being.
Williams has an eye for talent, having previously worked for multiple major winner and Hall of Famers Greg Norman and Ray Floyd.
"I think he just wants to bring a good energy toward me," Scott said. "I think he believes in my game, that I can be one of the best players in the world. You know, I think he thinks he can help me achieve that, and I believe that, too.
"So it's just a positive energy and just good motivation. Everything is very positive and confident with Steve so far, and you know, that's hopefully rubbing off on me."
Scott said he gave himself a kick in the pants this year, too, after going through a flat spell for nearly two years and leaving longtime coach Butch Harmon. Throw the new putter and Williams into the blender and hit puree, and the kid might just reach the level many predicted when he turned pro 11 years ago with considerable fanfare and dizzy expectations.
"I think I gave myself a jolt recently and have been really inspired and have really enjoyed playing this year, because everyone knows I had a tough couple years and was very frustrated on the golf course," he said. "Even last year I played so well, but I putted so poorly. It was so frustrating for me to play like that all year.
"I have really enjoyed this year, and then to have that fresh face come on with his confidence and belief in my ability, absolutely, it's another little jolt that inspires you to work a little harder and work hard when I'm out on the golf course."