Fluff was right, of course. Young Master Woods won in his fifth start, and his seventh, and his first start of 1997, and then the jaw-dropper at Augusta, and again last week with his ho-hum two-shot victory over Lee Rinker. Woods is winning so easily and matter-of-factly that Fluff, who in nine months has nearly equaled the win total of his first 20 years on the Tour, is becoming blasé about it. "He does his job, I do my job, and we go," Fluff said after the win in Las Colinas. "People ask me if I'm amazed. I'm not amazed. This is how good I think he is." Yawn. Another week, another 32 large.
Of course, a lot of people say that a caddie is to Tiger Woods what the Wonderbra is to Tyra Banks, but a lot of Tour pros disagree. Paul Azinger says the biggest change in Woods from his amateur days, when he made only five cuts in 14 pro tournaments, is that now "he's got a real pro clubbing him. You don't know what a difference that makes."
On Sunday at Pebble Beach this January, at the 209-yard, par-3 17th hole, Woods was trailing Mark O'Meara by two shots. "I figured it was six-iron," says Woods. "Hit it about seven to 10 feet past the hole and hope to make the putt, no big deal. But Fluff goes, 'Yeah, but if you want to stuff it in there, you gotta hit seven-iron.' So I changed, and I hit it to about three feet and made birdie. He's a pretty mellow guy, and it helps to have a guy who's mellow and yet who can speak up and say his opinion when he has to."
The 15th hole last Sunday was typical of how they do it. With Woods's ball lying next to a drain in the right rough and the Byron Nelson Classic up for grabs, the two of them hashed over the situation for almost two minutes. A lot of caddies, handed a Brinks truck like Tiger, might go a month without doing much more than nod yes. But Fluff's been around too long for that. They chose not to get a free drop from the drain, and Woods punched a wicked six-iron that rolled eight feet from the pin. He missed the putt, and they talked about that too. "I think we had it read right," Fluff said later. "As we walked off the green, Tiger told me he pushed it just a hair. He's very honest with me. If it's a bad read, he tells me it's a bad read. If he mishits it, he tells me, so I don't feel like I misread it."
Not that Fluff can't golf his own ball with distinction. Last week he took an afternoon off to play Dallas's luxurious Royal Oaks. Woods bet him $20 he wouldn't shoot 81. Fluff didn't. He shot 71. Tiger's score that day in the Nelson pro-am was 74. "I can't wait to get to the 1st tee tomorrow," Fluff said.
Of course, Fluff says that every day. According to a survey reported in USA Today, the average American would pay $7,800 to carry Tiger's bag for one day. If Fluff plays this thing right, he could clear about $40,000 a week. And no heavy lifting!
"Look, I never made this change for money," Fluff says of his switch to Woods. "I was doing fine for money. Peter treated me like a king. I made it for history. And now I've got the best seat in the house."
It's some sight: Tiger, with those long, young strides, followed closely by Fluff, with his stumpy legs, quick-stepping to keep up. Watching Fluff on an uphill par-5, you are not sure he is going to make it without benefit of an escalator. His back ails him some, and last year at the Nelson he looked so exhausted from the heat that Jacobsen asked some paramedics to check him out on the tee box. In fact, five years ago Fluff was grumbling about the end being in sight. "Two more years of this," he told Bob Riefke, Justin Leonard's caddie, "and I'm gone." Now that he's got the Man's bag, how many more years can he go? Fluff pauses. "Forty, tops."
If there is any resentment among the other caddies because Destiny came down and French-kissed Fluff, no one has said anything. "Nobody deserves this more," says Mike Hicks, Payne Stewart's caddie. "There were times when he could've left Peter. There were some pretty down times. But he stuck it out. He was loyal."
Says Jacobsen, "I've never met a more consistent guy. I don't think Tiger realizes how lucky he is yet."