For Stewart Cink, still no regrets about that British win

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — Sometimes fortune is more important than results. Sometimes it isn’t exactly what you do but indeed when you do it.

There are two British Open champions in this year’s Safeway tournament, which began Thursday. One of them, Shane Lowry, heard momentous cheers after his win; the other, Stewart Cink, heard only silence.

The unheard cheers had been saved for Tom Watson — who in part because of his own ineffectiveness, in part because of Cink’s sterling play, was unable to receive them.

How perfect in 2019, Lowry, an Irishman, winning the Open Championship the first time in some 50 years it was held in Ireland, making history.

How imperfect a decade earlier, 2009, Watson, ahead for 71 holes at Turnberry in Scotland, unable to make history because in the playoff Cink made the putts.

The Safeway isn’t a major. That is understood. Russell Knox shot a 9-under-par 63 in the opening round, Cink a 67 and Lowry a 68. A board full of low scores, which may be less important than the people who shot those scores.

Cink has a name and certainly, with six wins since turning pro after receiving a degree in business from Georgia Tech, a game. He is 47 and unapologetic for what he accomplished because of what Watson couldn’t accomplish.

Sure, around the globe most were backing Watson, who already had five Open victories and at age 59 would have been the oldest ever to win an event that started in 1860. But that wasn’t Cink’s concern.

“It never bothered me one second,” Cink said. “All I wanted to do was win. Yes, it would have been amazing if Tom won. I was aware of the developments during the playoff holes, even before at the 72nd hole.”

But what was he supposed to do, intentionally yank an approach into one of Turnberry’s deep bunkers, purposely three-putt one of Turnberry’s mammoth greens?

It was Watson who came apart, who suddenly looked like, well, a 59-year-old golfer who, after starting with a bogey following a poor chip on the 72nd hole of regulation, couldn’t make a par.

It was a fairytale undone, as much by the hero as the supposed villain.

Cink didn’t shoot Santa Claus. He just shot pars, while Watson lost the magic he’d possessed for more than three days and thus lost the Open to Cink.

“It happened 11 years ago,” said Cink. “Some memories don’t stay fresh. That one feels very fresh.”

Watson handled the defeat the best he could. Facing a glum setting of journalists in the post-event media conference, Watson said, “This ain’t no funeral,” properly improper grammar for the situation.

He did concede, “It’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut. It would have been a hell of a story.”

It still was, if not the one people presumed they would read, the one Cink helped rewrite.

“I think it will be the one that Tom Watson didn’t win,” said Cink, who deals graciously with a situation destined to be part of the sport for a long time. “But that’s OK with me; Tom has already got his name on the trophy five times. In my heart I know I played well enough to win it, and I did win it.

“I finished it off in great style and had a great time doing it.”

No cheers walking the final holes, as for Shane Lowry, but a lifetime of satisfaction. That will suffice for Stewart Cink, a victim of bad timing but a benefactor of fine golf when it counted.

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