Cink owes nobody an apology for winning the 138th British Open.
It’s not Cink’s fault that 59-year-old sentimental favorite Tom Watson got in the way while he was trying to win his first major championship.
Cink, one of the most engaging, intelligent players on the PGA Tour, was not oblivious to his role in spoiling the historic event that was on the verge of taking place: Watson becoming the oldest player, by 11 years, to win a major.
“I don’t feel ashamed,” Cink said. “I don’t feel disappointed. I’m pleased as punch that I’ve won this tournament. In the end, it’s a tournament to see who lasts the longest. It’s a survival test out there. I don’t know what else to say.”
He doesn’t need to say anything more. Cink, who hit the ball like a champion all week and finally got some crucial putts to fall, deserved to hoist the Claret Jug after 72 holes and a four-hole playoff.
“He needed it,” Cink’s caddie of 11 years, Frank Williams, said while standing greenside during the awards ceremony. “He won’t admit it, but I’m sure Southern Hills was still on his mind. He knew that he was good enough that he should win a major.”
Southern Hills was where, at the 2001 U.S. Open, Cink missed a short putt that could have gotten him into a playoff.
Cink was tied for the lead with Retief Goosen when he overshot the green, chipped to 15 feet and missed the par putt. Goosen had two putts from 12 feet for the victory, so Cink went to finish and clear the way for Goosen to celebrate and missed a two-foot bogey putt. Goosen went on to three-putt, meaning had Cink made his short putt, he would have been in the playoff Goosen eventually won the next day.
Late Saturday afternoon after he finished his third round here, I spoke to Cink about that day eight years ago and how long that missed opportunity stayed with him.
“I didn’t think it did very long at first, but then as time wore on I realized it stayed with me more,” he said. “It wore on me a little bit because I came so close and I didn’t get it done.
“I was just trying to get out of Retief’s way, lay out the red carpet for him. Then he put me in position of, ‘Wait a minute.’ The way it ended up, who knows? I might have won there.”
After winning, Cink conceded there were times when he wasn’t sure he ever would get as close to winning a major as he did that day in Tulsa, Okla.
“It wouldn’t be human to not wonder if that’s going to be my closest one, so, yeah, there were doubts there,” Cink said. “It lingered a little bit. It was embarrassing. That’s golf. You put yourself out there in front of the world stage, and sometimes you’re going to be embarrassed a little bit.
“But now hopefully I can move past it. I’ve had a couple wins since then, too, but this is a new chapter for me.”
Cink now always will be looked at differently — because he is a winner of a major championship.
“I’m not sure I really thought much about whether I was good enough to win a major or not,” Cink said. “I knew I’d been close a few times, but I never really heard my name tossed in there with the group of best ones not to have won.
“So maybe I was starting to believe that, that I wasn’t one of the best ones to never have won a major. But this week for some reason, I just believed all week that I had something good. My swing felt great, I was hitting the ball solidly and I just felt so calm.”
He crashed the party. He stole the girl. So what?
“I’m OK with that,” Cink said. “I feel like that whether Tom was 59 or 29, he was one of the field, and I had to play against everybody on the field and the course to come out on top. I don’t think anything can be taken away. Somebody may disagree with that, but it’s going to be hard to convince me.”