Jason Day, the Australian with a game, had just checked in with an opening round of 63 at the Bridgestone Invitational. Easily the round of the day to that moment at Firestone, and so it would stand until twilight, when Adam Scott played out. In the press tent, the announcement was made, as is usual, “Will all interested in having Jason Day brought in to the interview room, please raise your hand?”
One hand went up. Seven under par, in the lead at the Bridgestone, and one member of the media interested? An Aussie, perhaps? There was, however, a more likely reason. At that very same time Tiger Woods was about to tee off, emerging from his sabbatical, or whatever he chose to call his three months away from the PGA Tour.
So, all eyes were diverted to the first tee, and so the Big Show was on. There was no discounting the moment, for both sides of the first fairway were lined with patrons — yes, that’s an Augusta National term — and the green was stacked by a semi-circle of the curious. This was Woods’ coming-out, and most of the opening round attendees were there to bear witness. Meanwhile, back in the press tent the lone party interested in Jason Day’s round of 73 had him all to himself — that is, if Jason hadn’t decided to join the army along the first fairway.
As the opening round turned out, it was an irony of ironies. Usually, Woods’ bag has been on the back of Steve Williams, a transplanted New Zealander who had been Tiger’s zealous servant for years, including all the seven Bridgestone events Tiger had won. But there had been a harsh turn in their partnering. About three weeks earlier Woods had fired Williams. Just like that: No explanation: OUT!
Since, Stevie had found an easy and convenient client, the neighboring, easy-natured Australian, Adam Scott. Scott had barely missed winning the Masters and his game was on. It was a combination popularly connected, though Williams didn’t hide the displeasure with the way his former boss had dumped him. So we had the shocking first round at Firestone, Tiger six strokes back of Scott, in the lead with Tiger’s discarded caddie on his bag.
You think Steve Williams wasn’t enjoying his new client. His smile was a mile wide. And there’s one little incident I can’t forget: On the 16th fairway Woods’ present caddie, an old pal named Bryan Bell, picks up one of Tiger’s divots, starts walking, then tosses the divot. Not replacing it, just TOSSING it. Bad form.
You’d never have seen Steve Williams do that, like the gruff and growly personality of his Tiger days or not. Tiger and Steve on the same course again, but Steve on the lead bag and Tiger back in the pack. Play on.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.