Statement win also a milestone for Stevie

Originally Published: October 7, 2003
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

It wasn't the money title, or the Player of the Year race, or the million-plus dollars, or even Vijay Singh. Tiger Woods could have summoned any of those reasons as motivation. Instead, he pushed himself to get a milestone for his caddie, Steve Williams.

Tiger Woods
AP PhotoTiger Woods and Steve Williams have had their spats, but the good times have far outweighed the bad.

Hey, whatever works.

Woods won the American Express Championship on Sunday outside of Atlanta, his second World Golf Championship title of the year and fifth win overall.

In a year in which he has been dogged by questions about a bum knee, a balky driver and a dearth of major championships, Woods went out and reclaimed the money list lead, made himself a serious contender for his fifth straight PGA Tour Player of the Year award, and seriously damaged Singh's chances as well.

Afterward, Woods said the win was for Williams, who celebrated his 100th victory as a caddie, a highlight the No. 1 golfer said was on his mind all summer as he pursued another title after winning the Western Open in July.

Perhaps it is trite, but Woods' gesture is not without significance. Remember all the consternation after The Masters, when Woods called out Williams for bad advice during the fourth round?

No doubt, Woods blurted out a heat-of-the-moment comment, one he likely wishes he had back. What great player hasn't had a disagreement or 100 with his caddie? It happens all the time.

But with Woods, everything is magnified. When he switches drivers -- which happens every day on the PGA Tour -- it is news. And when he criticizes his caddie, everyone wonders when the ax is going to fall.

It is quite clear, however, that Williams is more than a caddie. A native of New Zealand who previously worked for such major championship winners as Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, Williams started working for Woods in 1998, when Tiger dumped Mike "Fluff" Cowan and was undergoing a major swing change. Since Williams began working for Woods, the world's No. 1 has claimed 34 PGA Tour titles, including seven major championships.

"I was trying to get it done for him at one of the majors,'' Woods said. "I thought that would have been pretty sweet to make it a 100th win, but it didn't quite happen. That's why I think the British Open was so disappointing, too, was that I was right there.''

Woods finished tied for fourth that week, missing a shot at a playoff after bogeying two of the final four holes. He ended up two strokes back of Ben Curtis.

At the other majors, Woods was not much of a factor, although he had pulled into contention at The Masters by birdieing the second hole on Sunday. That's when Williams talked him into hitting a driver at the par-4 third in an attempt to knock it on the green. Woods thought better of it, wanting to lay up. But Williams was persistent and Woods went along.

Likely not committed to the shot, Woods sprayed his drive into the trees, had to hit his second shot left-handed from behind a tree, and ended up making a back-breaking double-bogey.

Woods seethed, but everyone in golf knows it is ultimately the player's calls on club selection. No doubt, Williams would love to take the advice back.

But there's been plenty given over the years by the veteran caddie, and Woods is grateful for more than just the bag-toting. There is Williams' role as policeman and bodyguard, as well as camera cruncher. He does just about everything to make sure his man is not distracted, or is as comfortable as possible. And Woods has responded.

Now he's in position to win an unprecedented fifth straight PGA Tour money title, as well as Player of the Year honors. There is no major trophy on his mantel, but you'd have a hard time arguing anything is wrong with Woods if those honors again come his way.

"Right now it still is kind of up for grabs because if Weirsie (Mike Weir) or (Jim) Furyk or Vijay, those guys win the Tour Championship, they have a chance to win, or even Davis (Love III), so a lot of different things can happen at the last tournament,'' Woods said.

Yeah, like getting Williams started on his second 100 wins.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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