With Safeway win, Cink provides validation he didn’t need

© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — He said it would be a validation, one that Stewart Cink contends he didn’t need. “Hey,” he told us, “I know I’ve got enough game to compete out here, I really do.”

Cink had more than enough. On Sunday he won the Safeway Open, his first victory in 11 years, his first since denying Tom Watson a place in history.

That was in 2009 and Watson, age 59, was about to become the oldest man to win the British Open. But he didn’t win it. Cink won it, in a four-hole playoff that left the sports world stunned and Cink an unintentional villain.

Now Cink is the old guy, if at 47 not as old as was Watson that Open, and perhaps Cink at last will be appreciated for his skill.

He shot his second consecutive 7-under-par 65 for a four-round total of 267, which was 21-under at Silverado, the resort course smack in the middle of Napa’s vineyards.

That was two shots better than Harry Higgs, who shot 68 for 269, three days after his albatross (a double-eagle 2 on the ninth hole) and 69. There was another 62 Sunday, by Doc Redman. And if the scores at Silverado aren’t what they’ll be next week in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, well, too bad.

That was the phrase repeated after Cink took the British that Watson couldn’t hold. Golf is full of misfortune — dogged victims of inexorable fate, warned Bobby Jones — but also full of great joy.

“I don't know, it wouldn't mean any more now that it meant when I was 34, I guess,” Cink said Saturday. “But I'm 47, so I mean, it would be — I would be in probably be in a very select group of people that have won at this age on the PGA Tour.”

The golf ball, we’ve been advised, doesn’t know how old you are. The people you’re playing do. Higgs is 28, and Redman is 22. Cink has a college-age son who caddied for him at the Safeway.

Age and youth, experience and lack of experience. Cink has been through it all. He felt that all the years of competition gave him an edge.

“But it's also kind of a double edge, because it's been a while since I was really in the thick of it,” Cink had said before he teed off, “and when you're my age, you do kind of carry some different things in your brain and your soul than you carry when you're a kid.

“Maybe a little bit of a different attitude, just by the nature of the way that we mature. But I remember what it's like. I mean, it was 11 years ago when I won the Open Championship, but I feel like it was yesterday.”

It was yesterday, Saturday, when he had eight birdies and only one bogey, on the relatively easy 17th hole. That trimmed the lead to two shots, but it didn’t matter.

“It’s been an awesome time,” said an emotional Cink after getting the trophy. “My son Reagan caddying for me, Lisa (his wife) was here. This is a really special place, I love being in Napa, and I just had a really phenomenal time this week. And on top of that, my golf ball was pretty agreeable most of the way.’’

Cink’s 21-under is the tournament record in relation to par.

“There’s no question this was some of my best golf,” he said. “It's been a while since I really played well for four rounds, and even here the second round I was not exactly outstanding, but I really played great over the weekend. I was clear-headed and calm, and that's an area where I kind of have struggled over the years.”

There was no struggle this time. There was only success.