You are forgiven if you haven't thought much about Stewart Cink since April. That's when Cink beat Ted Purdy in a playoff at the Heritage after famously sweeping a few little rocks out from behind his ball in a waste bunker. Cink was exonerated in the minor controversy that followed, and after his brief time in the spotlight, he was able to return to his preferred modus operandi: quietly going about his business.
Cink is such an average guy that last Saturday night, while holding a five-shot lead at the prestigious NEC Invitational, he celebrated by going out to dinner at Bob Evans with a couple of caddies. "We're boring," said Cink's man, Frank Williams, who was part of the trio. "We're Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel guys."
Whatever works. Cink took that early win on Hilton Head and built it into a solid season, making the cut in 19 of 22 starts and climbing to 12th on the money list with seven top 10 finishes. He even made it into the top 20 on the Ryder Cup points list, but he stayed far enough under the radar that, in a summer of speculation about whom Hal Sutton would choose with his captain's picks, his name hardly ever came up.
There's nowhere for Cink to hide now. Two Sundays ago he finished 17th at the PGA Championship. The next day Sutton made him one of his two wild-card selections. And last week Cink responded by going out and blowing away the field at the NEC with an 11-under-par 269. Rory Sabbatini and Tiger Woods tied for second at 273, but it wasn't really that close as Cink, the Tour's top putter this season, opened with a 63, followed with a pair of 68s and then coasted home on Sunday.
That the win came only days after the Ryder Cup announcement was not a coincidence. "Being a captain's pick is a huge honor, and I was very flattered by that," said Cink, "but once the Ryder Cup race was over at the PGA, I felt as if there was a burden lifted and I was able to focus on what was at hand this week."
In truth, Cink's emergence is the result of his work with a therapist to accept himself as not just an average guy but also one of the game's top players. "In 2001 I qualified for the Ryder Cup team and started comparing myself as a golfer with the other players on the team," he says. "Not only the current guys but ones from the past, too, and I started being really hard on myself for making mistakes. Ryder Cup players don't miss three-footers, don't hit the ball in the rough on par-5s."
It was only when Cink came to grips with his bad shots that he could move forward with his golf game. That doesn't mean he's not still a regular Joe, though. When asked how he would prepare for Sunday's final round, he answered in a way couch potatoes across the country could appreciate. "I'm looking forward to hitting a few balls," Cink said, "then going home and turning on the television."
On the heels of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the Tour should have given the players a break at Firestone. No one wants to play back-to-back majors.
Up & Down
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Holy 1985! Amateurs Spencer Levin (right) and Luke List revive the hateful turned-up collar look.
CHUCK SOLOMON (CINK, SINGH, WOODS)
WINNING PICK Cink followed his Ryder Cup selection with a wire-to-wire win.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS
CHUCK SOLOMON (CINK, SINGH, WOODS)
SCOTT CLARKE/WIREIMAGE.COM (WIE)
SIMON BRUTY (LEVIN)