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Cink Finds Redemption With British Open Victory

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↵As 59-year-old Tom Watson's amazing run at the 2009 British Open collapsed into heartache during a disastrous four-hole playoff at Turnberry, the windy Scottish evening took on an air of solemnity in respect for Watson’s astonishing accomplishment at falling just short of a ninth major 34 years after he won his first. ↵

↵But for Stewart Cink, Watson's disappointment made for the crowning moment of a long, distinguished career that has seen more than its own share of major disappointments. And though Watson's exhilarating stab at another Claret Jug was without question the story on this blustery Sunday at Turnberry, Cink's story was nearly as amazing, and today at least, a much happier tale. ↵

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↵To fully grasp what kind of inner redemption Cink achieved with his victory Sunday, one must travel back eight years to the 2001 U.S. Open, where he missed an 18-inch putt on the 72nd hole at Southern Hills in Tulsa, bungling his way out of a playoff for the title ultimately won by Retief Goosen. ↵

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↵At the instant that he missed the putt, Cink didn't quite realize what a mistake he’d made.  In missing his 15-foot par putt just seconds before, he presumed that he had lost his chance to contend, with his playing partner, Goosen, needing only to two-putt from 12 feet to win out. Visibly angry with himself and convinced that all hope for victory was lost, Cink rushed to clean up his 18-inch tap-in and pushed it wide. ↵

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↵It was a tempestuous stroke that didn't seem to matter in the moment. But a minute later, it mattered big-time. Goosen followed Cink's lead and three-putted, placing himself in the 18-hole Monday playoff with Mark Brooks that would have included Cink if only he'd kept his cool and concentrated on that 18-inch putt. ↵

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↵Talk about mistakes that will haunt you for years. It was undoubtedly the most excruciating moment of Cink's career, one that has seen him come agonizingly close to victory at all four major championships. But given the memory of that 72nd hole in Tulsa eight years ago, the fashion in which Cink grinded out his win at Turnberry must have made it all the sweeter. He did not quit early on himself this evening, not by a longshot. With the focus on the back nine resting on just about every other player on the course other than Cink -- Watson, of course, but also Lee Westwood, Matthew Goggin, and Chris Wood -- Stewart hung tough and made a rare birdie at the 18th with a nervy nine-footer to take the clubhouse lead with a two-under-par 278 for the tournament. ↵

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↵There was nothing left for him to do at that point but watch and wait as Goggin, then Westwood, and then Watson gave strokes back to the field. Watson missed a nine-foot par putt on 18, resulting in a 72-hole tie, setting up a most unlikely four-hole playoff between a 59-year-old, eight-time major champion, and a 36-year-old, hard-luck, no-time major champion. ↵

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↵Watson’s mere presence in that playoff was amazing, but the presence of Cink, after hanging tough and holing a gutsy putt to close out an even gutsier round, was a lesser but nevertheless great story of golf redemption. That he won the playoff proved the icing on the cake, as he got to see his name inscribed alongside the legends of the game dating back to the nineteenth century – Old and Young Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus, and of course, Tom Watson. He also got a monkey off his back that he's carried for eight years now. Today, the memory of that missed 18-inch putt is erased forever, replaced by a nine-footer that etched Stewart Cink's name into golf history for all time. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.