California: Stewart Cink clinched his first major title by beating golfing great Tom Watson in a playoff for last year’s British Open but victory at this week’s US Open would give him even greater pleasure.
“To come through here at a course like Pebble Beach, with all the history and all the champions’ names, would mean the most to me,” Cink, 37, told Reuters after playing nine holes in practice on Monday.
“This tournament, especially the way they have been setting it up lately, really identifies the best players.”
American Cink tied for eighth when the US Open was last held at Pebble Beach in 2000 and he described the set-up for this year’s edition as “difficult but fair”.
Although the spectacular coastal layout is renowned for its small greens, Cink felt the severely sloping fairways would present the toughest challenge this week.
“There are going to be some holes where probably less than 20 percent of the guys are going to hit in regulation,” the six-times PGA Tour winner said.
“For instance, on the 10th hole, you can’t just hit it down the right half of the fairway and expect your ball to stay in. You have to hit the left half of the fairway. Holes like that are not going to be very often birdie holes.”
Cink has recorded three top-10s at the US Open, the most painful at Southern Hills in 2001 when he double-bogeyed the final hole to end up one stroke shy of a two-way playoff.
“Looking back on it, it probably took me longer than I thought it would to erase memories of that,” he said.
“Once the confidence from playing well wore off, I entered a stretch that was probably the darkest of my career -- most of ‘02. I just wasn’t very happy with the way I was playing.”
Cink had been tied for the lead with eventual winner Retief Goosen of South Africa as the duo played the final hole at Southern Hills.
However the American missed the green with his five-iron approach before three-putting for double-bogey, missing the last from two feet.
“My mind was in the wrong place in ‘02 and a lot of that was directly related to what happened at Southern Hills because I felt like that was my identity,” Cink said.
“And that really isn’t the way you want to be identified as a golfer.”
Last year’s British Open at Turnberry, however, provided him with the perfect setting to bury his painful memories of Southern Hills.
Although Watson at the age of 59 was the fan favourite, Cink rolled in a 15-footer on the 72nd hole to draw level with his compatriot before clinching the title in a playoff.
“Southern Hills never came to my mind at all during Turnberry last year,” he said. “Not one time until I was with the press afterwards and someone asked me about it.
“And I thought: ‘Oh well, you’re right. I have put that (memory) away.’ It did linger with me for a little while but after Turnberry I think I was successful at silencing all those little demons in the head.”