NEWPORT, Wales – Hard to believe that anyone is having any more fun than Stewart Cink at the 38th Ryder Cup.
Cink was the forgotten man during Thursday’s opening ceremonies, as U.S. captain Corey Pavin introduced 11 members of his team and went to return to his seat. At the crowd’s urging, and with Cink laughing as his teammates surrounded him, Pavin looked down his front row of players to realize one more man was still seated.
So Pavin then announced Cink – from the wrong hometown.
That’s OK. Cink’s not sitting anymore. In fact, through two completed sessions at Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten Course, it could be argued few have stood any taller. Playing alongside fellow Georgia Tech alum Matt Kucher and tangled up against Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell for two matches that covered more than 30 hours – neither team being able to inch its nose ahead – Cink came up with the crucial blow, one that temporarily changed the tenor of the matches.
One hole after Cink stuffed a shot inside 10 feet to help the U.S. team square its foursome match, the momentum appeared ready to turn once more at the par-3 17th, this time in Europe’s favor. McDowell hit his approach to 5 feet, riling the partisan crowd, and the situation wasn’t exactly ideal as Cink studied his birdie putt of 25 feet. A European victory would return the score to 5-5 before the teams headed off into a third session. Instead of getting bogged down with thoughts of the results, he thought only about the process.
Cink, who made his fifth Ryder Cup team only when Pavin made him a captain’s selection last month, didn’t get ahead of himself. He stayed in the moment and sent his putt along its way. It tracked perfectly, too, breaking left to right. Before it disappeared into the hole, sending U.S. players and team personnel jumping along the banks, Cink looked over to Kuchar and saw his teammate with his hands clasped over his head, signaling the “Diamond Cutter,” an inside reference to a match-ending move made famous by former pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page (DDP).
To compound matters, McIlroy then stepped up and slid his birdie putt past the cup. The U.S. suddenly was 1 up. Cink helped protect that lead with a deftly placed wedge shot to the par-5 18th, putting the pressure back on McIlroy, who spun his third shot off the green, basically ending Europe’s chances. The teams had played 36 holes, halved one four-ball match, and by the end of foursomes the U.S. had earned a point only by the narrowest of margins.
“I called this guy a horse earlier,” Kuchar said. “I think the right term would be a thoroughbred. This guy is one stud here.”
Cink and Kuchar’s late turnaround did not only catch the eye of their own team, but the opposing captain as well.
“The way that Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar finished that particular game against Rory and Graeme, all credit to them for finishing the way they did,” Europe captain Colin Montgomerie said. “That’s all about Ryder Cup, so to finish that way was fantastic.”
For Cink, taking the stage in the session’s final match and coming through with such a significant contribution was by far his most significant Ryder Cup moment.
“What we did on 17,” he said, “I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
For a time on the back nine, it appeared Cink might be the guy known more for blowing the match than seizing it. From a greenside bunker right of the 15th hole, he bladed his shot clear over the green. Kuchar then had to pitch from a nearly impossible spot, sending his ball back across the green into the bunker once more. Europe never had to putt, taking a 1-up lead.
And then Cink came up big with his late-match heroics, he and his rookie teammate enjoying every moment of the ride. The putt at 17 wasn’t the only one he’d made in two days; he’s been rolling in putts from all over Celtic Manor.
Speaking of his miscue at 15, he said, “I’m glad we turned that around. The 16th hole was big, and the putt on 17, in Ryder Cup, those are like poison darts.”
As Cink departed for the team room for a short respite before returning to the course for another four-ball match, Zach Johnson and his caddie, Damon Green, stopped him to offer congratulations. Cink’s pin-striped gray pants and white golf shoes were caked in mud, and he had enjoyed every single memorable moment.
“I love to represent the U.S., and I love these guys on my team,” Cink said. “This competition seems to bring me to a new level. The level of play here has been off the charts.”
Off the charts. And loud enough that his captain won’t overlook him again anytime soon.