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Stewart Cink's family was certainly happy to see him win the Claret Jug. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Outside chance brings Cink inside group of major winners

Stewart Cink knew that practically everyone wanted Tom Watson to finish off his magical week with a victory. But when his opportunity came, Cink knew he had to make the most of it.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Call Stewart Cink the Grinch Who Stole Tom Watson’s sixth Open Championship if you’d like, but he sure isn’t giving the Claret Jug back.

In a week at Turnberry that belonged to the 59-year-old Watson for 71 holes, a costly bogey on the 72nd hole allowed the 36-year-old Cink to sneak into a four-hole playoff at 2-under 278 total on Sunday. From there, Cink romped to a six-shot playoff victory to become the 138th Open Champion with his first major victory and fourth PGA TOUR title overall.

“I feel like whether Tom was 59 or 29, you know, he was one of the field, and I had to play against everybody in the field and the course to come out on top,” Cink said. “I don't think anything can be taken away. Somebody may disagree with that, but it's going to be hard to convince me.”

The convincing would be difficult considering what Cink had to do to hope for the outside chance of a playoff to begin with. Playing 30 minutes ahead of Watson and with the excitement around Turnberry at a fever pitch, Cink recovered from a crushing bogey on No. 16 and a short birdie miss on the par-5 17th to birdie the final hole with a 15-foot putt for a 1-under 69 and the clubhouse lead.

Cink then sat around to see what Watson would do. The old man by the Irish Sea birdied the 17th hole and had a one-shot lead on the 18th tee, but made his most costly bogey of the week to pave the way for Cink.

“I don't remember knowing exactly what I needed to do, but I just knew I wanted to try to make that putt,” Cink said. “I've been working really hard the last two or three months on my putting and my whole mental approach to golf. And that was just another test, you know, that I had to try to pass, and I passed that one. And it just came at a great time.

“I had a good solid routine there. I knew what I was looking at, and I hit that putt with really -- really without a care in the world of whether it went in or whether it missed,” he added. “But a blank mind like that is the best way to approach a pressure-packed situation, and I was proud of myself the way I handled that.”

The poise in that situation had to be particularly satisfying for Cink given what happened in a past opportunity to win a major back at the 2001 U.S. Open.

In a lapse of concentration, Cink missed an 18-inch putt on the final hole that year at Southern Hills, which ultimately would have earned him a spot in an 18-hole Monday playoff with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but not one that Cink needs to dwell on ever again.

“It lingered a little bit,” Cink said of that missed chance eight years ago. “It was embarrassing. That's golf. You put yourself out there in front of the world stage, and sometimes you're going to be embarrassed a little bit. But now hopefully I can move past it. I've had a couple wins since then, too, but this is a new chapter for me.”

Sunday’s win marked Cink’s ninth top-10 in a major and his second in an Open Championship -- he tied for sixth at Carnoustie in 2007. But even with a stellar record in golf’s four premier events, Cink admits he never felt as if his career would have been incomplete without a major title. Now though, he never has to wonder.

“I'm not sure I really thought much about whether I was good enough to win a major or not,” he said. “I knew I'd been close a few times, but I never really heard my name tossed in there with the group of best ones not to have won. So maybe I was starting to believe that, that I wasn't one of the best ones to never have won a major.”

Whatever he believed, Cink found himself in a playoff with Watson, whose eight major wins is sixth-best of all time.

Cink isn’t stupid. He has a Twitter account and ‘tweets,’ for goodness sake.

He was well aware of the fact that, chances were, everyone in the world aside from his family, friends and caddie were pulling for Watson to finish off the magical run. However, Cink was able to block that out and deny arguably the greatest story in the history of sports from coming to fruition.

“I've played plenty of times with Tiger and hearing the Tiger roars and Mickelson,” Cink said. “I'm usually the guy that the crowd -- they appreciate but they're not behind me 100 percent of the way. You know, they aren't. So, you know, that's the sort of role I've been cast into for my whole career. And, hey, that's not the worst. It's okay.”

Perhaps fittingly, Cink became just the second American to win at Turnberry -- Watson was the first 32 years ago.

“I never have dreamed that I would go head to head against Tom Watson in a playoff for a major championship,” Cink said. “That would be beyond even my mind's imagination capabilities. … The same Tom Watson that won this tournament in, what was it, '77, the same guy showed up here this week. And he just about did it. He beat everybody but one guy. And it was really special. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be playing against Tom Watson.”

To reiterate -- never in his wildest dreams did Cink see himself battling Watson for a major. But that’s what happened at Turnberry, and can anyone truly expect Cink -- one of the all-around good guys on TOUR -- to feel guilty about his greatest accomplishment ever on the golf course?

“I'm engulfed by the joy, for sure,” Cink said. “I can understand, though, the mystique that came really close to developing here and the story. But in the end, you know, it's a tournament to see who lasts the longest. It's a survival test out there, as you look at the scoreboard with the winning score being 2 under. It's a survival test, and I don't know what else to say.
   
“I don't feel ashamed. I don't feel disappointed,” he added. “I'm pleased as punch that I've won this tournament, and also proud of the way Tom Watson played because he showed    not only did he show how great a golfer he is, but he showed what a great game we all play, the longevity that can exist, for a guy to come out and compete.

“We thought Jack Nicklaus hung the moon when we won the Masters at 46. This is 13 years on from that, if I'm correct, right? Thirteen more years of age. So it just says a lot about golf.”
 

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