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Stewart Cink had to learn how to shake off bad shots, but that has become easier. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Stewart Cink had to learn how to shake off bad shots, but that has become easier. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Cink has learned to deal with his missed opportunity

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It took Stewart Cink a while to get over missing a very short putt that cost him a chance to win the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills. He's back now, feeling more confidence than regret, and believing he has what it takes to win now.

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Stewart Cink doesn't believe Southern Hills owes him anything.

A lapse of concentration cost him a chance to win the U.S. Open, now it's up to him to make sure it doesn't happen again at the PGA Championship.

Cink made one of golf's most memorable flubs in his last visit to Southern Hills, missing an 18-inch putt that ultimately would have earned him a spot in a playoff at the 2001 U.S. Open.

At the time, it didn't seem like such an important putt.

Cink was tied for the lead with Retief Goosen when he overshot the green, chipped to 15 feet and missed the par putt. Goosen had two putts from 12 feet for the victory, so Cink went to finish and clear the way for the winner to celebrate. He couldn't have known that Goosen would three-putt for bogey, missing a 2-footer of his own.

The lesson seemed simple: Don't take anything for granted. But Cink already knew that. It took more mistakes and more time to take something away that would really impact his life.

"Golf has a way of applying a little bit of shame if you miss a short putt or flub a chip or hit one (out of bounds)," Cink said Wednesday. "Shame is a part of golf."

After a number of little failures built up, Cink found himself reluctant to even head to the course. He started meeting with a psychoanalyst and learned to stop worrying about results and pay more attention to execution.

Cink called it looking in the mirror to understand what makes him tick.

"It's been a positive experience for me, not just in sports, in golf, but my whole life," Cink said. "I've learned a lot about myself and my own history."

Cink never had trouble dealing with success. He could make a good shot and build a little momentum without getting carried away. But after a bad shot, he didn't know how to shake it off and feel confident he was going to follow it with a good one. That has become easier.

The 34-year-old golfer from Georgia Tech hasn't tried to block the memories of that infamous putt. He doesn't see the need. Returning to Southern Hills brings Cink more confidence than chills.

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"If anything I got out of that lesson is I have what it takes to contend in a major at a course like Southern Hills," Cink said. "And I haven't really had a great record in a major since then, but when the time comes and I get close again on a Sunday, I'll know that I did it once before and I can get there.

"I can get to the 72nd hole, and all I need to do now is just finish it off."

On the 72nd hole last time at Southern Hills, Cink found the middle of the fairway and was in perfect shape with a 5-iron in his hand. But he pulled it left and could only get his chip shot within 15 feet.

"Those two shots are really where I cost myself a tournament," Cink said.

But all anyone remembers is the missed putt -- one he described as "tiny" and "a tap-in" and demonstrated by holding his hands apart a distance shorter than from one shoulder to the other.

"It was a really strange way that everything finished up there. I wish it would have finished differently, but it didn't," Cink said. "And it's just one of those kind of things that the longer you play golf, you end up in strange situations."

If there is some karma at work this week, perhaps it's this: Goosen is pretty sure he's staying at the same house where Cink holed up in 2001.

"Maybe we'll swap it around this time," said Goosen, who recovered from his gaffe to beat Mark Brooks in the 2001 playoff.

Cink doesn't buy into that. He said he believes in "other areas but not in karma."

"Besides, they dug up the green that did that to me, right?" Cink said. "It doesn't exist anymore."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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