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EYES OF THE TIGER; Caddie Steve plays it cool and that's just how his boss likes things.

Byline: STEVEN D'ANTAL and CLAIRE DONNELLY

STEVE WILLIAMS is surely the luckiest man in sport. Flitting between luxury homes in New Zealand and America, Steve, 37, lives the jetset lifestyle.

He travels by private plane, indulges his hobby for motor racing, and stays in the best hotels. Yet despite a one time handicap of two, Steve has never swung a golf club in a professional tournament.

The quiet New Zealander, who left school at 13 to train for a career as a butcher, is the driving force that makes Tiger roar. He is Tiger Woods' caddie.

When the American prodigy confirmed his place in sporting history last weekend, racking up an unheard of fourth consecutive major title - the Masters, the US Open, the Open and the US PGA - Steve was at his side.

It's a role that means he creams 10 per cent of the earnings of the world's most successful golfer.

Last year Tiger won a total of pounds 6million. With a weekly tournament salary of around pounds 1,100 a week, it brings Steve's slice to close on pounds 650,000.

As he admits: "I've got the best job in the world."

Friends say Steve couldn't be more different than Tiger's previous caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan.

Steve runs eight kilometres six days a week and swims a kilometre a day.

He has never been part of the golfing party scene because, as he says: "I like to turn up to the course every day feeling good."

By contrast Steve's middle-aged, heavy-smoking predecessor with the walrus moustache openly courted celebrity, signing his own autograph for the fans.

According to one insider: "The job went to Fluff's head. It's very easy to do.

"When you're associated with Tiger, you get very well looked after and you're in the spotlight so opportunities come your way.

"But the golfer is the one who's the star. The caddie is the guy behind him which is how Steve likes it."

Tiger, fiercely protective of his life off the course with family and girlfriend Joanna, loves the fact Steve is the retiring type.

From the moment Steve replaced "Fluff" in March 1999, he vowed not "to get carried away".

Away from the glare of publicity, he prefers spending time with partner Kirsty on their farm in Auckland, New Zealand.

He sees his role as being like a mechanic to a racing driver - the hobby he loves.

ALMOST every week he gets off in the New Zealand summer time he flies back to race in saloon cars, including a V8 Mustang.

Last year he carried the star's 40lb bag through a 72-hole tournament with two broken ribs after a crash.

But as far as his private life goes, racing is as sensational as it gets.

It's a no nonsense attitude that's seen commentators dub Steve and Tiger the perfect combination.

He dutifully fends off the girls who try to get to Tiger by slipping their phone numbers into his pockets to pass on to his boss.

Butch Harmon, Tiger's swing coach, said: "The mix with Tiger is perfect.

"I didn't think Steve would get caught up in the hoopla that surrounds Tiger and he hasn't.

"He's good under pressure.

"And Steve knows when to be aggressive and when not to be.

"He knows when to say the right thing and when not to say anything." American golfer, Raymond Floyd, who worked with Steve for 11 years, added: "He's a good companion out there.

"He knows when to pat you on the back and knows when to bark at you.

"He was like another son to me. He's not looking for publicity."

If Steve hadn't landed one of the best jobs, there's a good chance he could have made it as a pro himself.

BUT he left school at 13 and started his working life as a an apprentice butcher.

Like Tiger, Steve's love affair with golf started early.

Growing up in the small town of Paraparamu, near Wellington, New Zealand, he became obsessed with the game as soon he was big enough to hold a club.

With his dad a top amateur golfer, Steve desperately wanted to make the sport his career. Teachers despaired when he played truant to practise.

With a two handicap at the age of 13, he has even beaten his boss Tiger in a practice game, albeit with a 12-shot start.

At the same age, he'd bagged his first caddying job, carrying clubs for Australian, Peter Thomson, the five-times British Open winner.

He was hooked. "The first time I ever did it and got paid for it I just said 'That's what I want to do'.

"It was the 1976 New Zealand Open - and after the final he gave me 150 dollars, his golf bag and all his practice balls.

"I was getting 50 cents a week pocket money and I said 'That's what I want to do. I want to be a golf caddie."

Steve left school throwing himself into caddying while working part-time as a butcher.

At 15 he left home for good - heading for Europe to try to bag big-name golf contracts.

He didn't have to wait long - he lied and claimed he was 20 to take up a job with Greg Norman for eight years.

Steve soon developed a reputation for accuracy - walking courses two or three times before a tournament and spending four hours a night checking his figures.

But they got too close. Things turned sour when Williams, by now one of the most experienced caddies around, started telling Norman how to take shots.

It was a mistake Steve was determined not to make again.

In his next high-profile role, as caddie to Ray Floyd, he kept things strictly professional.

His reputation as a tough cookie caught the eye of Tiger Woods.

He called Steve to offer him the job over a 20-minute telephone call.

After 20 years on the tour, Steve was considering retiring after notching up 60 tournament wins. But an offer from Tiger was too good to refuse. He accepted straight away.

Along with a manager, coach and Nike representative, Steve travels everywhere with the 25-year-old.

In short, he is the only man Tiger trusts on the course.

But like all caddies, Steve works with no written contract and knows his dream job could end at any minute.

LAUGHING and joking between shots and high-fiving each other when things go their way, they socialise together and the affection between them is clear.

And his crunch decision at the 71st hole at the 1999 US PGA Championship marked a turning point in their relationship.

Woods was unsure where to play his shot. But Steve was there to tell him what to do.

He didn't hesitate, telling him: "It's left lip, trust me."

Tiger went for it - holing the putt and going on to take the tournament.

When spectators are making too much noise or taking photographs at the wrong time, Steve also makes sure the boss isn't distracted.

During the US Open last June, Steve stepped in after a fan clicked his camera just as a shot was about to be taken.

Tiger said afterwards: "He said 'Get off shot. There's a guy with a camera'. He went after the guy with the camera.

"Not many caddies would actually do that in the US Open.

"That takes a lot of guts but he did it. Then I put it up there on the green, made par and walked on.

"He can motivate me when things are going bad but he also has the gall to tell me what he thinks when I'm feeling uneasy about a club.

"He's not afraid to get into my face and that's nice.

"He is a big part of my success."

CAPTION(S):

MASTER: Steve & Tiger at Augusta; ALL-STAR LINE-UP: Steve and Tiger contemplating a putt; GOLF DRIVER: Off the course Steve Williams likes to race saloon cars
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 14, 2001
Words:1319
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