Cink Wins First Major In British Open Playoff

Stewart Cink won his first major championship Sunday, clinching the British Open in Turnberry, Scotland, in a four-hole playoff with 59-year-old Tom Watson — who came within one shot of being the oldest golfer to win a major title. Commentator John Feinstein talks with Steve Inskeep about the exciting battle for the Claret Jug.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The story of golf's British Open was less about the man who won than the man who lost. At the age of 59, Tom Watson almost became the oldest man in history to win a major title. He made a playoff before falling short against Stewart Cink. Commentator John Feinstein writes often about pro golf, and he's on the line once again this morning.

John, good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Stewart Cink, not as famous as Watson, but he has been a steady presence on the leader boards over the years.

FEINSTEIN: Now, Stewart Cink is a very good player, Steve. You're right. He's won five times on the tour. Interestingly, he had finished third in each of the other three major championships, but had never contended in the British Open. And he played superbly down the stretch. He made a clutch birdie on the 18th hole to put himself in position to get into the playoff if Watson faltered, which he unfortunately did on the 18th hole. And then he played near perfect golf in the playoff to win.

INSKEEP: You get a sense that people were crushed by this 59-year-old having such a chance to win the British Open and then falling short. But how did Tom Watson mange to compete so long against men who were 20, 30 years younger?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think a lot of it had to do with his knowledge of links golf, which is so different than the kind of golf we play over here, where you have to play bounces in the wind and understand that you're going to get bad breaks and not get frustrated. Watson's won five British Opens. He's played in 32 of them. He loves the links game.

He's an adopted Scotsman over there. You walk around a course with him, you hear all these cries of Go, Tom, because they love him so much over there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FEINSTEIN: And he rode that for four days and came so, so achingly close to pulling off what I think, Steve, would've been one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

INSKEEP: Now, is that what he talked - was that what he meant when he talked about feeling a spirituality on the course?

FEINSTEIN: I think that that's part of it, absolutely, that Turnberry is the site of his greatest moment in golf, his duel in the sun with Jack Nicklaus in 1977 when they were both 10 shots ahead of the rest of the field and a young Watson beat Nicklaus by a shot with back-to-back birdies on the last two holes. He loves that golf course.

But also I really think, Steve, that he felt - he said this on Saturday - he felt the presence of his late caddy Bruce Edwards, who caddied for his for almost 30 years, was like a brother to him. Neil Oxman, who was on the bag for him, was one of Bruce's closest friends. And Saturday, you could see tears in both their eyes as they came up the 18th. And Tom said afterwards that he felt as if Bruce was there.

INSKEEP: And when you look at the way that Tom Watson played during those four days, almost winning the British Open, what adjustments did you see from the young Tom Watson who no doubt had a lot more flexibility, could hit the ball farther, but still, Tom Watson was doing well without those skills of a young man?

FEINSTEIN: Hitting different clubs in different situations. He was one of the longer hitters on tour when he was the best player in the game, when he won his eight major titles. Now you could see him hitting the new utility clubs out of the rough. You could see that he wasn't nearly as long as the younger guys, the bombers, obviously.

And he thought his way around the golf course. No one understands links golf better than Tom Watson, which is why you noticed he never complained about that last bounce on 18, when he hit what looked like a perfect shot and it just took a hard bounce and went through the green. And Tom never complained about a bad bounce or bad luck. Those are the vagaries of links golf, and he knew it.

INSKEEP: It wouldn't be links golf without a bad bounce.

FEINSTEIN: Exactly. Bad bounces, good bounces, that's the way the game is played over there. No one understands it like Tom Watson. And, again, no knock on Stewart Cink, who's a fine man, but it would've been such a wonderful story if he'd won, Steve.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein, author of a shelf of golf books, including "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to NPR News.

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