A Tweetin’ Tech man denies Old Tom and the tide of history

Maybe only a Yellow Jacket could have held back the tide of history. Maybe only someone who played at Georgia Tech, which is an underdog in its own state, could have thumbed his nose at the hopes of a globe of golf watchers. Maybe Stewart Cink, who lives in Duluth, was the exact right man to do the exact wrong thing.

The sporting world wanted Tom Watson to win the British Open, and he came as close as you could and not win. One modest putt on the 72nd hole and he’d have lapped what Jack Nicklaus did at Augusta in 1986. The famous Golden Bear comeback Masters came at age 46. On this Sunday in Scotland, Watson was 46 days short of his 60th birthday.

Watson was once the greatest player in the world, but his last major title came in 1983. The 1983 National League Most Valuable Player was Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves, who retired from baseball in 1993. The 1983 AL MVP was Cal Ripken Jr., and even the iron man of his sport stopped playing in 2001.

Twenty-six years after the last shining moment, Watson had an eight-foot putt to become the oldest man ever to win a major, to stand as the beacon for all among us who hold AARP cards. This Watson looked much the same as the man we recalled — just a few more lines across the Midwestern face — but he had changed.

He’d famously stopped drinking a decade ago, and shortly thereafter he’d gotten divorced. And then he’d remarried and whiled away his time in the obscurity of the Legends Tour while we devoted our Sundays to watching Tiger. And we’d forgotten Tom Watson still owned a set of clubs.

And now: Eight feet to win the Open Championship. Eight feet to call back the years. Eight feet too far.

Watson struck a no-chancer, an old man’s putt. And suddenly he was in a playoff with Cink, who was once considered the Next Big Thing but who had won only five tournaments in 14 years as a professional. The man who won his first British Open when Stewart Cink was 2 years old.

Cink is a Tech man, a Thrashers fan, a Twitter icon with 560,000 followers. (”I don’t twit or tweet,” Watson told reporters this week.) From Scotland, Cink — he’s @stewartcink — offered this:

“Pretty sure I have swine flu. I thought if you like BBQ as much as I do, that your antibodies would be built up against it!”

Saturday night:This vending machine at T’berry locker room can meet ANY need that arises. 2nd to last one is condoms.”

Sunday morning:Getting ready for todays round. Very good exercise facility on European Tour. Raining hard at the moment but looks generally bright outside.”

Scarcely had Watson’s eight-footer gone wide right when Jason Sobel of ESPN.com posted this on his live blog: “Heard in the press room: ‘Stewart Cink is about to be the most hated man in the universe.’ ”

But the playoff scarcely had any time for any clean old-fashioned hate to foment. Watson was out of it from the first of the four holes. He lost by six strokes. A Tech man had won the British Open, but it was an Open that, outside Atlanta, won’t be remembered for its champion.

As Cink told ABC: “I have such an admiration for Tom … I was a little reluctant to be pitted against him.” But then this: “I’m elated I won.”

And here were Watson’s first words to reporters in the press tent: “Would’ve been a hell of a story, wouldn’t it? But it wasn’t to be.”

30 comments Add your comment

Gordon

July 19th, 2009
3:32 pm

Yellow Jacket major winners: Bobby Jones (13 times), Larry Mize, David Duval, and now Stewart Cink.

Congratulations to Tom Watson. As he said, it would have been a hell of a story.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

July 19th, 2009
3:49 pm

tough position playing the guy everybody in the world is pulling for but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I thought this morning if not Tom then Stewart. Great job by both men.

Mark Bradley

July 19th, 2009
3:56 pm

And here we thought Tiger missing the cut doomed any golf weekend.

Trey

July 19th, 2009
3:58 pm

Gordon — if Jones gets credit for 13 (which I agree with), then don’t forget Yates and Kuchar! :-)

Smoothie

July 19th, 2009
4:02 pm

Such a classy gentleman is Tom Watson and the finish was indeed heartbreaking. Still a wonderful achievement nonetheless at the ripe old age of 59 and change. I just do not understand the tentative stroke on the final putt when he had nothing to lose. But alas, Tom Watson is a humble gentleman and not the cocky thief one needs to be to steal a piece of history. Well played Tom, well played.

Congrats to the twittering phenom Stewart Cink! Let’s hope you get to lift the Claret Jug at all of your favorite places round town like a Ga Tech football game or a Thrashers Opening Night.

Billy

July 19th, 2009
4:10 pm

I got on the computer this afternoon hoping that Watson was walking away with it, until I saw that Cink was tied with him. It was a no-win situation for Stewart, but he dealt with it with class. Just as Watson did. As Rick Reilly said on the broadcast, it’s nice to see people lose with class… something that we don’t often see anymore.

R Klesko

July 19th, 2009
4:12 pm

Cink just ruined what could have been the greatest moment in modern sports history. We will probably never have a chance to celebrate something like that again. He just robbed millions in this country of happiness, hopes, and dreams. I hope he is cursed forever.

jacketbacker

July 19th, 2009
4:20 pm

Way to go Stewart!…..Goooo Jackets!!

Mark Bradley

July 19th, 2009
4:20 pm

Oh, yes. Cink caused Watson to miss the putt — and then lose by six strokes over four holes.

C’mon now.

MJM

July 19th, 2009
4:25 pm

Kelso, thats vicious. No class. It was none of those things you say it was a great achievement by Cink.

All I'm Saying Is...

July 19th, 2009
4:26 pm

R. Klesko: You’re an idiot. And, per your logic, I guess it was Angel Cabrera’s fault that Kenny Perry choked at the Masters’. You should take lessons in class from Tom Watson who admitted in the press conference afterward that he blew the putt to win it at 18 and didn’t put up much of a fight in the playoff—in other words, it was his fault that he didn’t get it done with kudos to Stewart for playing so well.

All I'm Saying Is...

July 19th, 2009
4:28 pm

And another thing: As much as I like Tiger, he should watch footage of Tom Watson’s behavior and take notes as Watson is the most professional acting person I’ve seen in golf in a long time. None of the club throwing toddler like tantrums for him despite what happened (or didn’t happen) in his last five holes of play.

MJM

July 19th, 2009
4:31 pm

Does any one remember Doug Sanders missed short putt years ago on 18 to lose the British Open. Very similiar to today.

Mark Bradley

July 19th, 2009
4:36 pm

I do remember the Doug Sanders putt. I believe it was 1970 at St. Andrew’s.

Mister T

July 19th, 2009
4:49 pm

I guess it is cink’s fault after all. I just heard a report that he went up behind Tom just before that last put in regulation and asked, “Do you breath in or out on your back stroke?”

What? He was in the clubhouse? Oh, guess he just won huh?

Hey Kelso, I hope everytime you get on the green you stop and ask yourself, “Do I breath in or out on my backstroke?”

Cink, here is to the first of many that we will be able to follow on Twitter!

brave1

July 19th, 2009
4:52 pm

I’m crushed.

Larry

July 19th, 2009
5:11 pm

To Kelso and Mark Bradley:
Have you forgotten that your puppy dogs lost this past year to TECH in Football, Basketball and split in Baseball. Stewart Cink learned to be a winner at TECH.
ps The puppy dogs women lost in basketball, too.
GREAT YEAR

md

July 19th, 2009
5:15 pm

Tom showed the kiddies how to lose with grace. He didn’t get it done and had no problem admitting that to the world with style and class. He put himself in position to win and he took himself out as well, but great to watch vs a runaway.

Poor Klesko demonstrates why today’s society is in shambles – no class. Man up and claim your mistakes in life instead of looking for someone else to point at.

Papa

July 19th, 2009
5:24 pm

It was a wonderful and modestly riveting final round … among the class acts, Watson and Cink rank among the top … Tom Watson has enjoyed a marvelous career; Stewart Cink can rest assured of his position in the game. Glad a Fuzzy Bee can cause such a buzz.

RAMBLE ON!!!

July 19th, 2009
5:25 pm

Awww yeah!!!

Way to go Stewart.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 19th, 2009
5:28 pm

Although I like Cink, just another reason to hate Tech.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

July 19th, 2009
5:37 pm

got up at 8am…watched this all the way until after the 1st playoff hole….I knew what was about to unfold..(just couldn’t watch it…) Tom had his chance…congrats to Stewart…but it’s gotta be bittersweet…oh well……we’ll never forget this British Open…

Congratulations

July 19th, 2009
5:57 pm

Way to go Stewart! Congratulations on a great win and here’s to many more! Go Jackets!

Gordon

July 19th, 2009
6:12 pm

Trey, you’re right! A U.S. or British Amateur is definitely a major.

Mark Bradley

July 19th, 2009
6:23 pm

Here’s a different Cink/Watson column, written for tomorrow’s print AJC, if you’re so inclined.

Ken Stallings

July 19th, 2009
6:25 pm

Golf is a gentlemans’ game, meaning your sole opponent is the course, not your fellow golfers. You relish their success and play your own game. Too bad gentlemanly virtues are lost on some in this blog!

Thought Watson had it. That approach shot to the 18th green made all the difference. Checked up a few feet short of where it did, might have made all the difference. Heck of a tournament!

The Truth

July 19th, 2009
7:43 pm

I was at a fundraiser that Stewart Cink was at last year. My son is a big fan of the PGA so I tried to get him to sign a hat for my son. He just blew me and my son off and continued in conversations with his “money crowd.” Crushed my son..then we went over to Kenny Perry and Mike Weir who were plenty gracious to sign. What a shame

snapshot

July 19th, 2009
8:36 pm

Great win Stewart Cink and go Yellow Jackets!!!!!!!!!!To tell the truth, He signed autographs for my grandson and was happy to do it.

Ted Striker

July 20th, 2009
5:43 am

@ 7:43 p.m. If you INTERRUPT someone in a conversation with other people — to ask them for an autograph — does it reveal anything about their personality?

Or does you INTERRUPTING them maybe reveal something about you?

Sting 'em Buzz

July 20th, 2009
10:00 am

He must have smelled the dawg in you.