TURNBERRY // Spare a thought for Stewart Cink as the dust settles on possibly the most dramatic of British Open championships. The inoffensive American will go down as one of the most unpopular recipients of the coveted Claret Jug for making the final decisive challenge which derailed Tom Watson's bid for a sixth title. "I know this will be regarded as the Open that Tom lost rather than the one I won," said an elated Cink after his play-off victory over an exhausted elder statesman of the game. "But I am just thrilled with pride and honour about what I have achieved here."
Cink, 36, realised he had become the villain of the piece after making a brilliant birdie on the 72nd hole to set a target which Watson could only match rather than surpass. But he could not afford to miss out on his own big moment by being overly sympathetic to his rival during the extra four holes. "To be honest I had mixed feelings going out at the end with Tom having watched him with such admiration all week," said Cink, a member of the last four US Ryder Cup teams. "But I felt I did a pretty good job in that play-off."
Cink confessed to having doubts about whether he would ever end a 12-year professional wait to win one of golf's four big prizes. "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 a major. So I started to wonder whether I was good enough to win one." "But this week for some reason I just believed all week that I had something good going on. I never even felt nervous at all. In the past I would have felt extremely nervous in the situation I was in out there.
"Somebody at a major championship always has that calm peace about them, and on this occasion it was me." Cink, though feeling sorry for Watson as they came down the 18th for the second time with four shots between them - the final margin eventually became six - was grateful that his advantage enabled him to be acclaimed on his final strides to glory. "The crowd were understandably rooting for Tom and that was fine," Cink reflected. "But it changed after the 17th when they knew I was going to win. They finally jumped on to my bandwagon a bit which was nice."
Cink now has 13 professional titles. His biggest previous victory was five years ago in the WGC-NEC Invitational.