2004: Newsmakers - Cink’s payoff worth the wait
Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Stewart Cink didn’t know what to do with himself at Harbour Town, and had only his stellar play to blame. Having started the final round of the MCI Heritage in 22nd place, nine shots behind runaway leader Ted Purdy, Cink hadn’t even thought about winning April 18 – but a sizzling 7-under 64, a round completed shortly after Purdy made the turn, meant he had to at least stick around a while to see how everything would sort out.
“I’ve never been in that situation before,” Cink said. “I didn’t know what to do. . . . So I cleaned out my locker. I ate half a cheeseburger and half a turkey sandwich. I called a few people. I watched a little bit of the tournament – not as much as you might think. It just seemed like it was inevitable it was going to be a playoff.”
Cink was right, and it turns out his lengthy wait was worth it. He and Purdy (73) went five extra holes before Cink set up a winning birdie with a brilliant play out of a waste bunker to 6 feet at the par-4 16th, sealing his third PGA Tour triumph. The victory was Cink’s second at Harbour Town, four years after he last won there.
“It just means everything for me,” said Cink, who made a 10-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to get to 10-under 274. “I’ve worked really hard on my game. I’ve been through some really tough stuff. And mentally I’ve been to the bottom of the barrel and back. I knew I’d have chances to win, but you never really know if you’re ever really going to. I was really proud of myself the way I played today. I kept my focus strong and I really didn't make very many mistakes at all.”
Cink’s triumph marked the largest come-from-behind PGA Tour victory on U.S. soil (eclipsed only by Paul Lawrie’s 10-shot comeback at the 1999 British Open), and Cink, 30, now has come from behind in each of his three Tour victories. Cink collected a second tartan jacket for his wardrobe, but not without first enduring a few anxious moments following the playoff. Several calls from television viewers questioned whether Cink had improved his lie when he legally removed loose stones and impediments before his clutch shot from the waste area at No. 16 in the playoff. Tour officials watched about 10 replays of the shot (with Cink) before declaring no infraction had been committed.
“I saw nothing that infringed the rules,” veteran PGA Tour official Slugger White said on The Golf Channel.
Added Cink, “What I was afraid of is somehow I win this tournament and there may be question marks about it, or an asterisk. And if that’s the case, I’m really sorry.”
No apology was needed. Nor did Purdy have anything for which to apologize following his best showing on the PGA Tour. One year to the day after winning on the Nationwide Tour, Purdy seemed well on his way to his first Tour title, building a five-shot lead on the opening nine. But two bogeys on his incoming nine left him deadlocked with Cink at 10 under, and he was playoff bound after following a sensational par save at 17 with a missed 10-footer for birdie at the 18th.
Purdy’s $518,400 runner-up check was nice consolation, but not what he was seeking.
“I wanted to win,” said Purdy, 30. “I don’t play for money. I’m out here trying to win golf tournaments. And I was close. . . . It’s a huge boost. A lot of pretty good players in this field, and I damn near beat them all.”
Ernie Els, one week after his close call at the Masters, tied for third with Carl Pettersson and Patrick Sheehan at 8 under.
Cink played beautifully Sunday, making six birdies to go along with an eagle-3 at the par-5 fifth hole, where he hit a 2-iron second shot to 18 feet. The eagle moved Cink to 4 under through five holes, and he began to think about contending for the title. He missed a 5-footer at 17 that would have propelled him to 10 under, but rebounded at the famed 18th, stuffing his second shot to 10 feet and making the putt.
Purdy, meanwhile, found himself in the awkward act of trying to protect his score, playing for pars instead of birdies. After making 15 birdies his first three rounds, he managed only two Sunday. “It’s a terrible way to play golf,” he said. “No fun at all.”
Cink, who went to Georgia Tech, and Purdy, who played at Arizona, played college golf against one another. Purdy never knew it, but Cink, a three-time All-American, actually emulated parts of Purdy’s swing, having committed it to memory after watching Purdy hit shots at a tournament in Houston one year.
Sunday at Harbour Town, as Cink made off with the winner’s trophy, the $864,000 check and the champion’s tartan blazer, it was Purdy who wanted to emulate Cink. But having come so close only whet his thirst to taste the title hunt on Sunday again.
“It hurts,” said Purdy. “I’m going to win next week. Yeah, I need to get back into this position.”