His successful caddying career has been deeply defined by the Masters. But Steve Williams admits this could be his last stroll down Magnolia Lane. Simon Plumb reports from Augusta.
Retirement and Steve Williams have been well discussed in recent months. But this week, Augusta National's unique aura is making the penny drop a little.
Rather than simply smelling the azaleas, Williams is making sure to savour them.
"Could this be my last Masters? It could be, yeah. It's a definite possibility," Williams told the Sunday Star-Times.
"It does make me feel different going in to this week, absolutely. I'm definitely taking it in a bit more than I normally would. This week is quite a special week to me."
At 50, Williams is well short of retirement age. And on form, his results with Australian Adam Scott are more the start of an enduring and history-making partnership, than the end of a glittering career.
But life on the road, and moreover, life away from his family, have Williams ready to call time.
Having announced this would be his last season caddying full-time, Williams' future, including the possibility of one more time at Augusta, sit solely in the hands of Scott.
"My plan is to see out 2014 and next year I'm either going to caddie half the year, or not at all. If Adam wants me to caddie for half a year, then that's what I'll do," Williams says.
"If he's not agreeable to that, then that's me done."
As insurance, Williams even thought it best to call in a favour this week, while he still could.
"One of the things that Adam was kind enough to do was get me some tickets, I've got six friends here this week. They've not been here before, they always watched it on TV."
After annual visits to Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones' golfing mecca over the best part of three decades, this week Williams, for the third time in his career, wears the number "1" patch on the left breast of his white boiler suit, the digit reserved for the caddie of the returning champion.
Chasing a fifth career win at the Masters and aiming to help Scott become only the fourth player of all time to win consecutive green jackets, Williams has been going all out.
Through each of the three practice days, the Kiwi caddie has marched off tee boxes, without fail, way ahead of Scott to have yardages paced out ready for his player's second shot. He's scribbled notes, gesticulated in his tradesmark adamant almost-isn't-it-obvious way and treated the preparation for every stroke like the championship rested on it. No other caddie has been anywhere near as eager or meticulous - and it's stuck out a mile.
Whether you like Williams' uncompromising, say-it-how-it-is manner (alone, a refreshing trait in a sporting era of overly-sterilised, pre-cocked public comment) no- one can knock his commitment.
"That's just me. Everything I do, I give it 100 per cent ," he says.
"At the end of the week I like to be able to say I couldn't have done any more. I prepared the best I could and gave the best I could." That's not only in golf, that's in life."
There is something about Williams this week, a visible hunger for another piece of history - and where victory would see Scott vault an injured and absent Woods atop the world rankings for the first time.
And despite all these years Williams smiles, that's just like all the rest of us, the Masters is always that extra bit special.
"This is one of my favourite two tournaments, the Masters and the Open Championship are my favourites to caddie in. I always look forward to it, I've caddied here 28 consecutive years, which is a lot. I love coming here," he says.
"As far as caddying at the Masters, the two career highlights would be Tiger winning in 2001 to hold all four Major titles and then obviously caddying for the first Australian to win it last year. I've been fortunate enough to have four wins here, it's a brilliant event."
In what's been tipped as one of the most open Masters fields in years, Scott and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy led the pre-tournament betting. For years Scott was known as a great talent, but one who only recently, a year ago at this event in fact, was he able to turn potential into a major championship.
It came soon after hiring Williams - and it seems two years of solid results and the major breakthrough have been no coincidence.
"I'm a straight up person, I'm never afraid to say how it is. Obviously that's well documented and has got me in trouble a couple of times. I'm one of the longest-standing caddies out here and have been fortunate to caddie for some very successful players," he says. "Successful players have a way of how they go about doing things. Not only do you caddie but you observe what's going on.
"I was lucky, in my very early days as a caddie I was in groups with Jack Nicklaus, both when I was working with Ray Floyd and Greg Norman. Jack was great, I asked him a lot of questions and to hear what he had to say was fantastic.
"There's a lot of common denominators that make these guys successful and if you look at all the great players, there are certain things they do. Some of those things we've brought to Adam, to his plan.
"I think the one thing I'm most proud of with Adam is I asked him for his goals, what his inspiration was and what he's trying to achieve out here. He told me what it was and, to me, I thought he was going about it the wrong way as far as his preparation and the tournaments he played."
Indeed, Scott himself has clearly hinted at the impact Williams has had on his career, saying he was attempting to dissuade him from retirement.
But by now Scott understands that decision is not for turning, with Williams admitting he has already sacrificed a good chunk of young fatherhood.
- Sunday Star Times
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