Almost as thrilled to see his nameplate screwed onto the door of one of the four luxury suites at the Turnberry Resort as he was to have his name engraved on the Claret Jug, Stewart Cink remembers his victory over Tom Watson in the 2009 staging of The Open Championship over The Ailsa links as the ultimate destination on a lifelong journey to glory.
A modest, towering American - this gentle giant from Georgia tips 6ft 4ins - with a competitive streak honed by five appearances in the Ryder Cup, Cink threw a combination of punches at Watson during the final round of the game's most revered championship which eventually forced the old heavyweight of the British linksland onto the ropes. Out in 35 blows, the 36-year-old made four birdies on the inward half, including a 16 foot putt for 3 on the last, to sign off with an impressive score of 69.
After Watson missed an eight foot putt for par on the 72nd hole needed to collect his sixth Open title - both players had posted totals of 278 strokes - Cink dominated the four hole play-off. By that stage of what had been an astonishing tournament it seemed as if the air had finally expired from the veteran's lungs as he shot bogey, par, double bogey and bogey. Cink, with youth on his side and a calm intake of breath, made par, par, birdie and birdie to win the showdown by six strokes.
Cink knew he had spoiled the ending most onlookers wanted but had no need to feel any pity for Watson after pre-empting what would have one of the great sporting fairytales that day in Ayrshire. After all, the Kansas golfer's name is inscribed on the Claret Jug five times while Cink's moniker appears on the trophy only once. He was able to shrug off any mixed feelings about defeating the then 59-year-old in a play-off by harnessing any sense of conflict to clear his mind and collect his first major title. "It just doesn't get any more satisfying than this," Cink reflected. "After all the changes I've made, with the Claret Jug in my hands, I guess this transformation is now complete. The journey is not over, but I'm a believer now."
Having joined the professional ranks in 1997, Cink was the first golfer to follow up success as the Nationwide Tour's player of the year with the PGA Tour's rookie of the year award 12 months later. "At first I had plenty of confidence when I came onto the Tour," he recalled. "I was young and I was eager. But over the years you play golf against the best players in the world and there is a lot more failure than there is success. So a little bit of doubt started to creep in.
"I started setting standards for myself that weren't really achievable. So I got a little down on myself and I had to work through it. I've always had a good foundation away from the course to weather the storms as they come and go. I had some really good years from about 2004 until 2008 and then came the Open championship win in 2009. That was a really big arrival point for me, where all the time and sacrifices that I had made, became worth it."
As for Watson, four of his five Open titles were secured on Scottish turf at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Royal Troon - he also won in England at Royal Birkdale - and an enduring relationship with the game's spiritual home began with an Open baptism in 1975 when he followed in the footsteps of Ben Hogan by winning at Carnoustie on his debut after a play-off against Jack Newton. While the victories which followed in 1980, 1982 and 1983 would earn pride of place in any other Open story, nothing captures the essence of Watson's relationship with the oldest major quite like the Duel In The Sun, his astonishing win over Jack Nicklaus on the Ailsa during the summer of 1977.
Perhaps the 2009 staging of the championship would have been another Open for the ages if only Watson had made par at the last and emerged as not only the oldest winner in major history but also the most romantic champion in any sport. Yet, as is so often the case on the linksland, fate was dictated by the fickle bounce of the ancient turf.
While there hadn't been a hint of tightness on the 18th tee as Watson located another fairway, the veteran chose to strike an 8 iron rather than a 9 for the approach and the shot ran through the back of the green. "That 8 iron will always live with me, " he rued. Watson duly chose to putt from the fringe and knocked the ball eight feet past the cup before coming up shy with the second. The outcome was sealed by that cruel bogey.
Cink, meanwhile, could look back on a roller-coaster of a closing inward half of 34 which included only two pars. The highlights on the back nine were a brace of 2s at the par 3s thanks to a 25 foot putt at the 11th and a six footer following an 8 iron to the 15th green. Unlike Watson, Cink chose a 9 iron rather than an 8 for his approach to the last and reaped the reward. "I just felt so calm in a situation where previously I would be extremely nervous," he said. "I was totally at peace with whatever happened."
All this time later, perhaps now it's a little easier to think of the 138th staging of The Open as Cink's championship rather than Watson's. After all, like the suite at the Turnberry Resort, it's got his name on it.