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Stewart Cinks the Good Ship Watson
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By David Ferguson

The ball is over, and Cinderella didn't end up in the arms of Prince Charming. The humble and gentlemanly Stewart Cink is no ugly sister, but he certainly spoiled a fairytale ending to the 2009 British Open when he beat 59-year old Tom Watson in a playoff for the title.

Stewart Cink with the precious Claret Jug that marks his passage into the roll of the golfing greats. [China.org.cn]

As Watson stood on the fairway of the 72nd and final regulation hole of the tournament, the scene seemed set for a perfect storybook ending to a perfect week of play at Turnberry. Watson was ideally positioned for his approach shot. He held a one-stroke lead over Stewart Cink, and a two-stroke lead over the field. All he had to do was hit his 8-iron in the general direction of the flag, keep it on the green, and give himself two straightforward putts for the championship. Conveniently, the pin was well to the back, leaving him a very long run of green to work with.

But he overhit the shot, and it went through the green, through the first cut of fringe, and into the second. As he had done on the 17th, Watson chose to take his putter. But he overhit the return as well, and instead of a tap-in for the championship, he had a testing ten-footer. He failed to make it, and condemned himself to a playoff with Cink over four holes – the 5th, 6th, 17th and 18th. Watson's record in playoffs – two wins in ten – did not augur well.

A foretaste of things to come arrived at the very first of the four. Watson, with the honor, drove well, and Cink hit a shorter iron from the tee. Cink played first from the fairway and found a greenside bunker on the right. With only 190 yards left to the pin, it seemed the momentum lay with Watson. But he failed to consolidate his advantage – he too found a much deeper bunker on the left. Cink hit his long bunker shot to three or four feet and converted for par; Watson could do no more than escape from the trap, leaving a forty-footer. He hit it close but not close enough – one shot to Cink.

On the next hole, the par-3 6th, Watson produced a miraculous escape from disaster. He sliced his tee shot miles to the right, and it rolled to the bottom of a huge hill from which he could see nothing of the green. Somehow he hit a blind chip to three or four feet and saved his par. Hole halved in three.

Tom Watson made a heroic escape from this playoff predicament with a pitch back over the photographer and a single putt for par, but it was all to no avail. [China.org.cn]

But it was clear that the Watson ship was listing. On the par-5 17th Cink found the fairway with a 3-wood; Watson hooked a drive so far into the rough that neither spotters nor spectators even saw the ball. Luckily television footage provided a general idea of where it had landed, and it was found within the regulation time.

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