AKRON, Ohio -- The intermittent shouts became a steady murmur, the drone became a chant, and by the time Steve Williams approached the 18th hole on Sunday night, you'd have thought he was winning the golf tournament.
It was a Kiwi crescendo. He gave a wave and offered something of a bow.
A caddie for 33 years, the New Zealander had often been a figure of scorn as the bagman, if not the henchman, for former world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who, as you might have heard, has a few credibility issues these days.
But over the waning moments of the Bridgestone Invitational, as he toured the last three holes at Firestone Country Club with new boss and tournament winner Adam Scott, it was as though he had been reborn, revamped and reinvented. Only in the incomprehensible scheme of the daily Tiger soap opera could a scintillating performance like Scott's become a secondary story.
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"Way to call his bluff, Stevie," a man yelled, regarding Williams' firing last month by Woods.
He flashed a grinning thumbs-up. The fans began chanting Williams' name in the grandstands at the 18th, to the point to where Williams had to hush the crowd with the wave of a hand so that Scott and playing partner
The dialogue cascading down the bleachers wasn't exactly subtle, either. Another man bellowed, "How do you like him now, Tiger?" prompting a thousand fans in the grandstands to snicker at Woods' expense all over again.
Ain't sports grand? All it took for Williams, 47, to become an embraceable, cuddly Kiwi folk hero was to be summarily canned after 12 loyal years of service by golf's reigning villain. Voila, the most popular man in Northern Ohio.
Just like that, Williams, a former rugby player who spent most of his time with Woods acting like a pit bull on a short leash to ensure his man didn't get run over by the fans, has morphed into a sympathetic figure, all because of the headline "Bagman gets the sack."
"Hey, people are probably sympathetic to it," Williams shrugged during the lengthiest post-round interview he has ever conducted. "That's a good point."
Not just a point -- more like the tip of a public-relations bayonet.
In their first week together since the news leaked that Woods had canned his longtime looper, Scott led from wire to wire on a course where Woods once owned the deed, if not the mineral and riparian rights. Woods won seven times at Firestone with Williams on the bag, and darned if the New Zealander didn't beat him to No. 8 in his first try, post-divorce.
As is his custom, Williams removed the flag from the pin at the 18th and tucked his caddie bib inside Scott's bag, more booty for his collection on the office wall back home. A young volunteer tried to retrieve the latter from Williams and was told politely, "I keep the winning bib, mate."
Would you ever have guessed that Williams would harvest a win before Woods? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, Williams never smiled more in his career than he did this week. Compared to when he was described as a bully while in Woods' employ, the fans practically threw rose petals in his path. He was completely blown away.
That's not the only reason Williams enjoyed the week. Scott is one of the most-liked players in the game, a class act who doesn't use coarse language, throw clubs or blow off autograph seekers. Williams has, in essence, moved to the other end or the polar extreme in the deportment department. There isn't a soul on tour who dislikes Scott. That's an incontrovertible fact. The warm and fuzzy feeling for Woods is slightly less than unanimous. If by slightly, you mean the width of the Grand Canyon.
If the afternoon cemented another cold, hard point, it's that there's still plenty of anti-Woods sentiment out there in the golf galaxy, because Williams was greeted with more attaboys than at any point in his career. It was a Sunday serenade. For the first time, he was the good guy.
For Woods, it's just another dent in what's left of his reputation and persona. Every time it seems as though it can't get worse, another sledge hammer comes along.
For instance, for those of you keeping score on the karma scale, where Woods is taking a pretty severe beating over the past two years, assuming that Williams earned the winning caddie's standard 10 percent of the victor's purse for squiring Scott around, he took home $140,000 for his efforts. Woods finished T37 and won $58,500.
It took Williams about 30 seconds before he declared it the best, most personally satisfying, electric victory of the 145 he has logged in his career on various world tours, which includes stints with Hall of Famers Ray Floyd and Greg Norman.
"It's the greatest week of my life caddying and I sincerely mean that," Williams said, over and over, like lyrics to a song.
In other words, that includes the 13 major championships won with Woods. Not only did Williams do some personal venting at his old boss, he gave a dissenting version of how the firing transpired. Williams said that after he started working for Scott, he was told by Woods over the phone that the most successful player-caddie tandem in history was toast.
"He just called me up when I asked him to go and caddie for Adam, and he didn't agree with it, and thought it was time to take a break," Williams said.
Woods said he fired Williams "man to man, face to face," during a meeting at the AT&T National event in Philadelphia. It was unclear as to whether these represented two different discussions, but Williams was hardly backing down from his assertion that the termination was surprising to him. Clearly, his pride remains slightly bruised.
Two weeks ago, he said he felt like he had wasted two years of his life waiting for Woods so sort out his personal, professional and physical issues. In fact, Williams had flown to his U.S. base in advance of the U.S. Open before Woods informed him that he wasn't playing, which is when Williams asked to work for Scott temporarily.
Williams had radiated some negative body language working alongside Woods for the past 22 months. A rift grew. That much is certain. When Williams worked a second week for Scott, Woods gave him the pink slip.
"I was absolutely shocked that I got the boot, to be honest with you," Williams said, encircled by two dozen reporters as Scott signed his scorecard. "I've caddied for the guy for 11 years, I've been incredibly loyal to the guy and I got short-shifted. Very disappointed."
As Scott played the 16th with Williams alongside, a huge video screen behind them played highlights of Woods' final round for the gallery. Not that there were many. He shot 70 and finished 18 strokes off the winning score.
Scott briefly turned and glanced at the board, but Williams never seemed to notice, keeping his back to the Woods images the entire time. A photographer even snapped a photo of the symbolic moment.
Forever characterized as something akin to an NHL enforcer, Williams made absolutely no attempt to hide his glee or to quickly diminish the accomplishments made in concert with his former boss. Revenge was served up over 72 decisive holes.
"It's the most satisfying win I've ever had, there's no two ways about it," Williams said. "I'm not denying that."
In a light moment, Williams was asked if he felt like his bond with Scott, who is from Australia, might have legs for the long haul. Williams, who believes he can help Scott ascend the rankings from his current perch at No. 17, quickly grinned.
"Why do you ask that?" he said, prompting a huge laugh.
We all know the answer, don't we?