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GOLF / BRITISH OPEN

Stewart Cink is latest golfer to go from minor notice to major acclaim

Previously ranked No. 33, he will join Angel Cabrera (69) and Lucas Glover (71) to form the PGA Championship grouping in mid-August as winners of the first three majors.

July 21, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — If in fact you handicapped the first three golf majors of the year and predicted Cabrera-Glover-Cink, please proceed to your tropical island of choice to live out your life unhurriedly.

You're clearly a soothsayer, and you really don't need a regular job.

Yet there they'll be -- Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink -- at Hazeltine outside Minneapolis beginning Aug. 13, forming the traditional PGA Championship grouping as winners of the first three majors.

Their rankings at the time of their titles: 69, 71 and 33, the first time this century that none of the first three majors were won by a golfer ranked in the top 10.

They represent the great unnoticed, with the borderline exception of Cabrera, also the 2007 U.S. Open titlist.

The thing about Cink, who won the British Open on Sunday, is that he has taken the semi-anonymity and comfortably self-actualized it, quite a trick of humility for somebody who emerged from Georgia Tech in the 1990s with a look-out-here-he-comes reputation among golf junkies.

"I'm usually the guy that the crowd, they appreciate, but they're not looking at me 100% of the way," Cink said. "You know, they aren't. So, you know, that's sort of the role I've been cast into for my whole career. And hey, it's not the worst. It's OK."

Golf junkies know Cink as a whiz and a very cordial man and somebody whose low-handicapper parents used to leave him on the putting greens as a lad while they played the Florence (Ala.) Country Club. Golf galleries know Cink as part of the scenery, a 6-foot-4 wallflower.

In one sense, that's quirky reality for somebody who before last week had stockpiled eight top-10 finishes in majors, plus made the roster for four Ryder Cups and three Presidents Cups. In another sense, it's downright poetic that when Cink finally did prevail in his 49th major try, he did so while everybody looked at somebody else.

In first place at four-under-par Sunday morning stood Tom Watson, a man who was -- let us repeat -- 59 years old and 26 years removed from his last major title, matters that stoke a fine buzz. Tied for second at three under and tied for fourth at two under were Ross Fisher and Lee Westwood, Englishmen resenting Britain's 39-major victory drought.

Tied with Westwood was Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, and one shot behind them at one under lurked chronic contender Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion.

Tied with Furyk: Cink.

Unnoticed.

Anybody who knew the name knew it best for a slapstick No. 18 green featuring Cink and Goosen at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., at the 2001 U.S. Open, in which Cink missed an 18-inch putt that came to matter when Goosen missed a two-foot putt that would have clinched it. Goosen and Mark Brooks then played a Monday playoff Cink couldn't join because of his carelessness with the 18-incher.

Not even subsequent accomplishments or a garish green cap could entice many eyeballs.

Cink spent Sunday caroming between even par and two under. At 3:25 p.m. British time, he was at one under in a four-way tie for second place, one shot behind. At 3:51, one under, tied for fourth, three back. At 4:31, one under through 12, two back.

At 4:52, two under and one back, but at 4:55, one under and two back. Bogeys on Nos. 14 and 16, a trip to the malevolent bushes on No. 16, a dreadful par on the puppy-dog No. 17, yes, but as leaders receded, he trailed by just one when on No. 18, he struck a mighty approach to 12 feet. Watson would birdie No. 17 just behind, but Cink -- a recovering putter at this career stage -- would birdie No. 18 and Watson famously would bogey it.

That bogey, the very last golf played in the regulation 72 holes, gave Cink his very first share of the lead, plus a place alongside Watson in a four-hole playoff Cink would dominate.

Somehow, that fit. After all, Cink went ignored even in those dreaded discussions about the Best Player Yet to Win a Major: Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Adam Scott, Westwood. . . .

"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 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 for some reason I just believed all week that I had something good. . . . And I just felt so calm. . . . Somebody at a major championship always has that calm peace about them, and I had it today."

Befitting the major year 2009, who knew?

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Rising stars

For the first time this century, no golfer ranked in the top 10 has won one of the first three majors (rankings at the time in parentheses):

2009 MASTERS

Angel Cabrera (69)

2009 U.S. OPEN

Lucas Glover (71)

2009 BRITISH OPEN

Stewart Cink (33)

PGA Championship

* When: Aug. 13-16.

* Where: Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minn.

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