MARANA - Stewart Cink has won four PGA Tour stops, played on three Ryder Cup teams, and is currently ranked 22nd in the World Golf rankings.
“I consider myself to be an underachiever,” Cink said. “I don’t believe that I’ve lived up to what I know I’m able to do, and I keep waiting for it to happen.
“I’m patient, but it’s been a long time.”
It could happen today. Cink destroyed Angel Cabrera — the defending U.S. Open champion and one of the best players of this year’s Accenture Match Play Championship — 3 and 2 Saturday morning.
Hours later, he beat fellow American Justin Leonard, 4 and 2.
In today’s 36-hole finale against Tiger Woods, Cink is the decided underdog. But the 34-year-old Alabama native swears he’s not trying to portray himself as such to gain an edge.
He really believes he has fallen short in his career, which began as a child when his scratch-golfer parents left him at the driving range because he was too young to walk the course. Cink was a three-time All-American at Georgia Tech from 1993-95, and was named the country’s top collegiate golfer his final year.
“I think if you look back over my career, I mean, I’ve made a lot of money out here on the Tour,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of high finishes — but I haven’t had as many wins as I felt like I had a chance to capture.
“I think just — it’s a nuance to the game where I feel like I haven’t closed the deal as many times as I’ve had the opportunity.
“That’s a disappointment to me, and that’s why I feel like I’ve underachieved.”
He has worked hard to change his own perception of himself. About six years ago, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound golfer began working more on his fitness. He hooked up with swing guru Butch Harmon.
Cink began working closely with Nike engineers in their development of balls and equipment, testing and tinkering for the right fit. It’s an advantage, Cink figures — maybe what Nike produces is skewed a bit toward his game.
He even credited his new ball — a Nike One Black — for making his drives longer than ever.
“I know everybody would like to have won more,” he said. “And Tiger has won, what, 70 times, and he’s probably wishing he won 150.
“But no, in my case, I just feel like I could have done more to this point. I still have a lot of golf to play ahead of me.”
A win today would be the most prestigious PGA Tour victory of Cink’s career — not to mention a $1.35 million purse.
A sixth seed in the Sam Snead bracket, Cink defeated a who’s-who of international golf — Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, Irishman Padraig Harrington, Scot Colin Montgomerie and Argentine Cabrera — before beating Leonard on Saturday afternoon.
He chipped in on No. 3 but remained all square with Leonard; each had two birdies through three holes. But the chip started a wave of momentum that saw Cink birdie Nos. 4 and 5, eagle 7 and birdie 8 to take a four-stroke lead at the turn.
Using a belly putter with a “claw” grip since 2002, Cink’s putting stroke won the match for him.
“Stewie can light it up,” Woods said. “He can make a bunch of birdies; He’s one of the best putters out here.”
Cink, who had a stomach virus earlier in the week, faded down the back stretch, bogeying on two holes.