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Stewart Cink wins British Open in playoff against Tom Watson

TURNBERRY, Scotland — One putt from 8 feet at the British Open was all that separated Tom Watson from a moment no one imagined possible until he was close enough to make it happen.

On the verge of becoming golf's oldest major champion, Watson finally showed his 59-year-old nerves.

The par putt never had a chance. An hour later, neither did Watson.

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" said Watson, who has five Open titles. "And it was almost. Almost. The dream almost came true."

Turns out this British Open on the Ailsa course at Turnberry was too good to be true.

Stewart Cink, 36, who made a 12-foot birdie on the final hole of regulation, overwhelmed a weary Watson in the four-hole playoff to win the British Open on Sunday.

Cink posed on the edge of a pot bunker with the claret jug. Watson walked into the media center and quickly sized up the mood.

"This ain't a funeral, you know," he said.

Watson stood on the 18th tee one last time, trailing the playoff by four shots, blinking away tears. He wasn't alone in his sadness. Thousands of fans who filled the grandstands sat in stunned silence for the first time all week.

Rarely does a major end like this one — to polite applause from a gallery of long faces.

Cink, who shot 1-under 69, was never atop the leaderboard until Watson missed the winning putt for 72, leaving both at 2-under 278.

Then Cink was flawless in the playoff. He opened with two pars, finished with two birdies and won by six, the largest margin in this format. Watson, on the other hand, had bogey, par, double bogey and bogey.

"My hat's off to him," Cink said of Watson. "He turned back the clock. Just did a great job."

And the loudest cheer was for the man who won the silver medal.

Cink had to settle for his name engraved on golf's oldest trophy. Yet even his first major title was bittersweet.

"I have to be honest, playing against Tom in the playoff, it's mixed feelings because I've watched him with such admiration all week," said Cink, an Alabama native who lives in Georgia. "And of course, it would come down to me against him in the playoff."

Tied with three other players along the back nine on a breezy afternoon, Watson two-putted for par on the tough 16th hole, where his challengers all made bogey to fall back. Then he made an easy birdie on the par-5 17th, giving him a one-shot lead.

From the middle of the 18th fairway, Watson was thinking about hitting a 9-iron then settled on an 8-iron. The ball soared right at the flag then bounced hard and fast over the back of the green. His putt back up the slope ran 8 feet past the hole.

He steadied himself over the par putt, and thousands of fans braced themselves. The moment ended quickly. It was obvious he didn't hit it hard enough. Watson's sagging shoulders confirmed it.

"I made a lousy putt," he said. "Then in the playoff, it was bad shot after another."

Cink was asked if he felt like the guy at the end of a syrupy Holly­wood movie who had stolen the girl just before the final scene.

"Well, just as long as I get the girl," he said, "I'm okay with that."

Jack Nicklaus, whom Watson beat at Turnberry in 1977 in the famous "Duel in the Sun," shared Watson's pain.

"I don't think Tom was tired," said Nicklaus, who watched from his home in Florida. "But emotionally, he was spent. All his emotions were spent in those first 18 holes. When Stewart made birdie at 18, and then Tom made bogey, it just goes right through you.

"I feel terrible for him."

As for Watson?

"What I've always said is when all is said and done, one of the things I hope that will come out of my life is that my peers will say, 'You know, that Watson, he was a hell of a golfer.' "

They said that 32 years ago, when he last won at Turnberry. They said that 26 years ago, when he last won a major. And when asked what he thought a good headline would be for the story, Watson thought for a moment.

"The old fogy almost did it," he said with a rueful smile.

Titles for outsiders

This is the first year the first three majors have been won by players outside the top 10 world rankings since 1999, when Jose Maria Olazabal (34), Payne Stewart (13) and Paul Lawrie (159) won:

Angel CabreraMasters at Augusta NationalRank: 69

Lucas GloverU.S. Open at Bethpage BlackRank: 71

Stewart CinkBritish Open at TurnberryRank: 33

Spoiler alert!

Add Sunday's British Open to the list of feel-good stories in recent majors that lacked fairy-tale endings:

• 2009 U.S. Open: David Duval, ranked 882nd in the world, found himself right in the hunt. But it was unheralded Lucas Glover who took the title at soggy Bethpage Black.

• 2009 Masters: Kenny Perry, 48, had his first major title in sight before bogeying the 17th and 18th holes in the fourth round. He lost to Angel Cabrera in a three-man playoff that included Chad Campbell.

• 2008 British Open: At 53, Greg Norman tried to become the oldest major winner ever. But Padraig Harrington caught him on Sunday at Royal Birkdale to successfully defend his Open title.

• 2008 U.S. Open: Tiger Woods (he played on a bum knee, but he is the No. 1 player in the world) beat Rocco Mediate, 45, in 91 holes.

Source: ESPN

Turnberry tidbits

Lee Westwood relived his missed 15-footer that kept him out of the 2008 U.S. Open playoff. After an astonishing shot from a deep fairway bunker on the par-4 18th, he thought he had to make the 60-foot putt to remain in contention and attacked the pin. He sent it 10 feet past, missed that and dropped to 1 under. "I've gone from frustration to sickness now," the Englishman, 36, said after finishing tied for third again.

• Paul Lawrie's double eagle, the first of his career, came off his 4-iron from 213 yards at the seventh hole. It was the fifth double eagle at the Open Championship since 1982 and sparked a round of 68 for the 1999 champion. "I saw it go in, too, which was nice," Lawrie said. He holed a 3-iron from the fairway at the par-4 17th at Royal St. George's in 2003. "But I've never had a two at a par 5 before — never."

• Matteo Manassero, 16, from Verona, Italy, shot 1-under 69 in the final round, just six weeks after he won the British Amateur, and finish tied for 13th, becoming the youngest winner of the silver medal for amateurs since it was introduced 60 years ago. He said his game was helped by playing the first two rounds alongside Tom Watson, who gave the young player plenty of advice. "Playing with Tom Watson, I grew up a little bit," he said. "Even if he didn't say something to you, even if he didn't give you advice, you have grown up just watching him. It was great."

Stewart Cink wins British Open in playoff against Tom Watson 07/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 8:02am]
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