Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: A season of potential

No joke, Cink hears plenty of cheers at Hazeltine

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[August 12, 2009]  CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- The cheers for Tiger and Phil are a given, and Padraig Harrington gets his share of love. Follow Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim or Camilo Villegas around a golf course, and there'll be plenty of shoutouts for them, too.

Stewart Cink? Not so much.

"I'm usually the under-the-radar guy in the group," Cink said. "I never hear 'Go Stewart!' -- unless someone chuckles after it."

Nobody's laughing now.

Cink has become quite the popular guy since last month's win at the British Open, also known as the Tournament Tom Watson Almost Won. After being all but ignored in regulation at Turnberry, Cink got plenty of airtime last weekend at Bridgestone, where he finished in a tie for sixth.

And despite it only being Tuesday, he had a decent-sized gallery for his practice round at the PGA Championship.

"The fan support has been probably the most surprising," Cink said. "There's a lot of comments from the crowd, a lot of support, a lot of congrats and it's just a really good feeling. It actually instills even more confidence."


The PGA begins Thursday at Hazeltine National.

Cink was hardly one of those major winners who has fans scratching their heads and wondering where he came from (that would be you, Michael Campbell). He'd won five times on the PGA Tour, consistently finished in the top 25 and been part of the American Ryder Cup team that finally broke the European streak last year. He'd contended at a major before, too, missing out on the playoff with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks at the 2001 U.S. Open because of a double bogey on the last hole.

But he wasn't on that dreaded "best player never to win a major" list, either.

"I never have really been the kind of guy that thought of myself as a must-win major guy," Cink said. "A lot of people have asked me now that the monkey's off your back how does it feel. I never thought there was a monkey."

Now that he has the claret jug, though, there's a good chance more major titles could follow.

"I didn't win any majors for about 50 starts. Then I won one, and now all of a sudden I feel like I can do it every time," Cink said. "It's a huge confidence builder."

Just look at recent history. Phil Mickelson had been in contention so many times the first 10 years of his career, that "best player" tag may as well have been his middle name. After finally winning at Augusta National in 2004, he added titles at the PGA the following year and the Masters again in '06.

Padraig Harrington won the British Open in 2007, defended his title the next year and then added the 2008 PGA crown for good measure.

"You believe in yourself more," Harrington said.

Though Cink has played just once since Turnberry, he's had ample opportunity to display that self-confidence. He hasn't had much choice, really, what with the way the British ended.

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It's not an exaggeration to say people the world over were rooting for Watson. At 59, he was supposed to play a couple of rounds and make way for the youngsters. But a couple of birdies Thursday put him on the leaderboard and he never left. When he birdied 17 on Sunday, all he had to do was make par and golf would have a finish to rival Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at 46.

But Watson missed an 8-footer for par to drop into a tie with Cink, who had birdied the 18th three groups earlier. Clearly gassed, the eight-time major champion was no match for Cink in the four-hole playoff, and Cink won by six strokes.

It was the biggest achievement of Cink's career, yet he was cast by many as the villain in a fairytale. The Scottish Sun referred to him as "Stewart Stink," and The Guardian called him "the Shrek of Turnberry." Even a hitchhiker picked up by Cink's friends during a trip to Glacier National Park asked, "Can you believe what happened to Tom Watson?" (To be fair to the hitchhiker, he didn't know Cink was in the group's second car.)

"I understand from a sports fan's view that that was the greatest story maybe in sports in the last generation that was trying to unfold right there," Cink said. "I think many years from now people will look back and they'll remember that Watson almost won the Open. And it might take them a second, but I think they'll remember that I ended up being the winner.

"I could probably solidify my own presence in that tournament by winning a few more big tournaments down the road," Cink added. "But as long as I have my claret jug with me, that can't be taken away from me."

[Associated Press; By NANCY ARMOUR]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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