It might have been ten years ago, but the memories of that traumatic Turnberry finish still burn bright.
“It’s OK that they will call it: ‘The Tom Watson Turnberry Open’. In my heart I know I played well enough to win it and I did win it. I finished it off in great style and had a great time doing it.”
Stewart Cink was, it’s fair to say, not the neutral’s choice to be crowned 2009 Champion Golfer of the Year.
Indeed, everyone outside Cink’s immediate family was probably rooting for Tom Watson on a dramatic Sunday in July a decade ago.
But Watson, at 59 looking to become the oldest-ever major winner by a distance, could not par the 18th in regulation and then lost out in the resulting four-hole play-off.
Cink was therefore crowned Champion amidst a strange anti-climactic feeling on the 18th green.That Cinking Feeling
For Cink that Turnberry win is something he still thinks about ‘every day – many times.’
But his wife Lisa’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 has put golf into some perspective for the Atlanta native.
And the friendship with Watson remains unblemished, indeed a year later at St Andrews for The Open they played practice rounds together.
“It’s been ten years and it feels like it’s been ten minutes. Walking down the 18th hole with a big lead in the play-off, that was a luxury in a tournament. It doesn’t happen that often in golf.
“How often do you get to live out that kind of dream? You are on the practice green, countless times, telling yourself: 'This is to beat Tom Watson in The Open' and then it happens in real life.
“Looking back on it, I’ve had so many people say to me: 'You stole The Open from Tom Watson'. It’s said mostly in jest but sometimes serious too.
“But the way I see it is a lot of people tuned into watch golf that day, people who wouldn’t otherwise have watched.
“They already knew about Tom Watson. He didn’t win but they learned a bit about Stewart Cink and that was the way it was supposed to be.
“But I fully understood what Tom was doing there, writing that story.
‘So it never was lost on me and I think that was a big part of being able to stay about my wits in that play-off.”Goodbye Mr Tom
Watson was in the field thanks to the exemption he had earned for becoming the Champion Golfer five times over. Win The Open and you are guaranteed a spot until the age of 60. And for so much of the week, a reinvigorated Watson looked like he might create history again.
But for all the hand-wringing over what might have been for Watson, it is worth remembering just how well Cink played on Sunday in order to secure the Claret Jug.
Where Watson struggled on 18, Cink hit his stride.
His final round of 69 was capped at the last in regulation by a fine approach and a long-range putt that looked in from a long way out.
That final birdie was celebrated in style by Cink, who took the clubhouse lead at two under and as he kissed his ball and walked off to sign his card – he seemed to know there was drama still to come.
The pressure proved too much for Watson in the end and the second time Cink arrived at 18 – he could relax.
“It’s a great disappointment, it tears at your gut. It would have been a hell of a story.” Tom WATSON, 2009
The Open’s four-hole play-off system meant that by the time Watson and Cink returned to the final hole – the Claret Jug was all but won.
At Turnberry in 2009, the playoff involved playing the fifth, sixth, 17th and 18th.
But Watson had run out of steam by then, with a five on the fifth and then a seven on the 17th. Cink had a four-shot lead staring down his final approach to 18.
And with the weight of the world finally lifted, Cink got the party started in quite some style.
He flushed his approach to five feet and then the smile arrived.
The man from Alabama, who was back in ninth heading into the weekend, rolled in his birdie putt and lifted his hands to the skies.
The 18th at Turnberry had proven a tough test for almost every player on the final Sunday.
But Cink had birdied it twice in just over an hour. And it had proven absolutely vital.
Watson was understandably distraught, although he managed to quip in his press conference: “This ain’t a funeral, you know!”
But he would concede: “It’s a great disappointment, it tears at your gut. It would have been a hell of a story.”
In the end the trophy belonged to Cink.
But the story lives on, with Watson forever interlinked on an historic weekend that proved links golf provides unmatched drama.
Cink at the time said: “I think it will be the one that Tom Watson didn’t win. But that’s OK with me, Tom has already got his name on this thing five times.
“It’s OK what they say, the Tom Watson Turnberry Open. In my heart I know I played well enough to win it and I did win it.
“I finished it off in great style and had a great time doing it.
“It means a lot to win a major, it all hasn’t sunk in just yet.
“I have reached the very top of the game, at the oldest tournament, is something that I will always be proud of.”
And for Watson, the memories might be fading, but Turnberry will forever be in his heart for many reasons.
“The reaction was overwhelming. Thousands of letters, e-mails, texts—everything you can imagine. They came in for months. The theme of them was simple: 'You made me believe in myself again. You helped me try something that I thought I couldn’t do anymore. You inspired me to believe anything is possible.' Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for that. It really touched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”