That Cink-ing Feeling

Sinking to his knees after converting match point in his Wimbledon semi final Andy Roddick mouthed “I’m sorry.”

In his moment of triumph the American immediately realised that his victory would cast him in the role of villain. By beating Andy Murray he had condemned British tennis fans to another year of misery. Elated by victory Roddick maintained the humanity to sympathise with those haunted by the ghost of Fred Perry.

In this most enthralling of sporting summers another American was destined to fulfill the same role of victorious villain on Sunday. Stewart Cink – quiet, methodical, modest – kept his head as others drifted last Sunday afternoon. His prize was the ultimate in professional golf but to hoist the Claret Jug he first had to hijack Tom Watson.

Watson, the eternal favourite of the Scottish links, had written his own script with a virtuoso display. As Sunday wore on we all began to worship in the Church of Tom, a sacred place where the impossible was suddenly so very, very possible. Like Francis Ouimet or like Jack Nicklaus on that fabled Masters Sunday in 1986, Watson stood on the brink of something heroically special, a victory that would transcend golf and become one of the most compelling sporting tales of our age.

And then along came Stewart Cink. The unassuming American is the very model of the solid professional golfer. Often in the mix but rarely the main attraction. Until his final, heroic birdie putt Cink had, like so often before, gone about his business under the radar.

But suddenly he had posted the clubhouse target. When Watson couldn’t beat him over 72 holes it seemed inevitable that Cink would take the play off. Destiny, fickle as ever, had overlooked the veteran and put its arm round Cink.

It was not the result that we wanted. We had tried to will Watson to the par he needed but we had failed. There was a feeling of emptiness during the play off, what we hoped for seemed so exceptional that anything else was an anti climax.

But we should not let our feelings for Watson and our sense of loss for what might have been cause us to overlook Cink. Make no mistake his play throughout the week merited the victory. He came to Turnberry with a job to do and he got it done over 76 gruelling holes. Links might not be his natural habitat but he has worked hard to master the ancient form of the game. Finally that work had paid off.

He was as gracious in victory as Watson was in defeat. He knew this wasn’t the ending that the press or the fans wanted. But he had become the champion golfer of the year by playing the most consistent golf of the week. He apologised for ripping up the script but no apology was needed.

Paul Lawrie’s win at Carnoustie in 1999 is still remembered for Jean van de Velde’s 72nd hole implosion. But beneath the headlines about the wet footed Frenchman lay the truth of Lawrie’s remarkable 67 on the final day of that harshest of championships to pull off perhaps the most incredible comeback in Open history.

It is Cink’s misfortune to have won the “Watson Open” but, like Lawrie, it his good fortune to have his name on the famous old jug. The harsh judgement of history will record only the winners and losers. Watson provided the stunning subplot but Cink, head held high, emerged as the winner and nothing can take that away from him.

His Open pedigree has not been great – one top ten from 10 previous attempts – but, as Watson emphatically illustrated, form is not always a prerequisite on a blustery links. Where others flapped, flailed and ultimately failed Cink remained steadfast. He was the only man in the field that coped with everything that Turnberry could throw at him. That is the quality that wins Opens.

We will long remember everything Tom gave us over the week. But we shouldn’t let that blind us to Stewart Cink’s achievement. Once again the Open sifted through the field and selected the worthy winner. Modest as he is Cink deserves our acclaim as a fine and deserving champion.

One Response to “That Cink-ing Feeling”

  1. At a time when all of us could use a boost from a feel good story from a true golf legend and hero let us not forget the predatory nature that is professional sport. I’m sure that Mr. Watson and Mr. Cink would agree that when an opponent shows a weakness his fellow competitor should capitilize on the opportunity. Along with many others, my heart sank when Mr. Watson could not finish off a magnificent display of professional golf. Once again the quirky nature of the game became apparent when Mr. Watson was penalized for an approach shot struck a tad too pure downwind carried a few feet too long. Let’s remember, however, that the tournament outcome was solely in the hands of Tom Watson. I’m sure he would not have wanted it any other way, win,lose, or draw. His failure to execute in no way diminishes his legendary display of golfing prowess nor does it vilify Stewart Cink for capitalizing on an opportunity. Thank You, gentlemen, for a memorable tournament.

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