For four rounds at Augusta, the pressure had weighed on him like a Tour pro’s golf bag.
He knew the world was watching, as it always did, to say nothing of his countrymen, a hemisphere away.
Finally, on Sunday, with the shadows growing long on the second playoff hole against some fat guy with a funny accent, the moment arrived: his rendezvous with history.
The stroke was only so-so but the read was perfect. The clinching birdie dropped, pandemonium erupted and he fell into the embrace of his faithful sidekick.
Steve Williams had triumphed at the Masters yet again.
“Never mind what I said at the Bridgestone Invitational,” he tweeted seconds later. “THIS is the greatest win of my career.”
The victory, his fourth on these hallowed Georgia grounds, vaulted the soft-spoken, self-deprecating caddie into a tie for second for most career wins at Augusta, two behind Jack Nicklaus and tied with Williams’ former Xbox rival, Tiger Woods.
It also returned the spotlight to its proper place at a tournament nearly undone by distracting storylines.
All week leading up to Thursday’s start, which required Williams to wake up much earlier than he would have liked, the golf world had been subjected to the tedious, treacly tale of a 14-year-old amateur, the youngest-ever participant in the Masters, who hailed from somewhere sort of close to Williams’ native New Zealand but whose name the Kiwi looper could not recall.
Wasteful ink had also been spilled over Rory McIlroy, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, and his schoolboy crush, Caroline Wozniacki, who caddied for her beau at Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, wearing a white jumpsuit that, a keen-eyed Williams later noted, “wasn’t nearly as hot” as her tennis whites.
But most unmerited of all was the hoopla over Woods, the adequate video gamer and avid golfer who’d enjoyed the privilege of hitting clubs that Williams carried for nearly 12 years. During their tenure together, Williams had guarded Woods like a rabid pit bull, manhandling photographers who deigned to snap his picture and dressing down well-wishers who prematurely shouted “You da man!”
Woods, in turn, had repaid his caddie’s loyalty by cheating on his own wife.
Even the many millions that Williams had earned for his pack-mule labor was not enough to buy back the respect he said he’d lost for his one-time pal.
But if any of this past pressed heavily on Williams, it wasn’t apparent as the 2013 Masters got underway.
Over four grueling rounds, through rain and shine, he plodded doggedly from tee to green, wiping down grips and cleaning grooves, enduring the strains of a roughly six-mile walk that, no matter how many times Jim Nantz says it, still doesn’t get due credit for being much hillier than it appears on TV.
On the 18th hole of regulation, an overly exuberant post-birdie high-five left the stoic caddy with a stinging right hand. But he soldiered through it.
On to the playoff. A par on the first hole. A flushed drive on the next, followed by a crisp iron and a decisive birdie: a win for Williams, New Zealand and the world.
Not long after his raucous celebration, in a quiet ceremony in Butler Cabin, a green jacket was awarded to Adam Scott, the first Australian to share in a Masters triumph in the 77-year history of the event.