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Thursday, September 9, 2004
Cink, Haas very wild wild-cards

By Bob Verdi
Golf World

After Stewart Cink completed the fourth round of the PGA Championship, he scribbled his cell phone number on a piece of paper, just in case.
Stewart Cink

Perhaps Hal Sutton, the United States Ryder Cup captain, had misplaced it. "If he's hanging around the locker room," said Cink. "I want him to have it." Sutton was nowhere to be seen, but he found Cink at home in Atlanta that evening, after an anxious Sunday ride. Cink and Jay Haas, both of whom actually lost ground in the team standings during their week at Whistling Straits, would be Sutton's wild-card selections for next month's matches against Europe. Meanwhile, on the outside looking in was Scott Verplank. "I'm shocked he's not a pick," said Cink. "I thought he was a lock."

As did a lot of people, including probably Verplank. But so it goes when there are only so many places for so many golfers. A captain looks over the smorgasbord, and he can only hope he doesn't wind up with a cold fish.

How can this team lose? Five of the last eight American major champions aren't even on Sutton's squad of 12. David Duval won the 2001 British Open and Ben Curtis in 2003, but neither was ever on the captain's radar. Todd Hamilton, who currently holds the claret jug, made a case at Whistling Straits, but not strong enough. Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel, the two previous victors of the PGA Championship, also will be elsewhere than Detroit. That speaks well of the deep U.S. talent pool, but this also is a recorded announcement. We've all heard that before other Ryder Cups, only to wonder what happened after the Europeans, liberally sprinkled with names to be placed later, pulled another upset. Ask Haas, who still winces about losing the clincher to Philip Walton at Oak Hill in 1995.

In Herb Kohler's mecca for bathroom fixtures, not far from Green Bay, our nation's toilet-paper capital, Verplank may rue a trip to the porta-potty near the fifth hole Friday. After doing what one does, Verplank began jogging to keep up with his group. He was 6 under for the tournament when he turned his right ankle, not far from an existing injury on the same foot. He was never the same and wound up 5 over for 72 holes. "I think it was one of those sheep trails," Verplank said, "and I'm not a sheep." Verplank never complains about his diabetes or makes excuses for scar tissue, but he was genuinely perplexed about how his stock was dropped from Sutton's portfolio. "Hal called and said he was sorry," Verplank said Monday from Oklahoma. "Me, too."

When the PGA Championship began, Haas was clinging to the 10th and last spot on the points list. "Four years ago, if you'd have told me I'd be there at age 50, I'd have said, 'Yeah, right,' " Haas admitted. "But you're never too old to have goals, and the Ryder Cup became one of mine." Haas was bumped by hard-charging Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley, but Sutton likes experience and dedication. Haas could have done the Champions Tour thing this year, but scheduled only two, the Senior PGA and U.S. Senior Open, over PGA Tour stops.

Cink's nomination rewards his recent surge -- three top-10s and two top-20s in his last five starts. "I didn't even think Ryder Cup until I won at Hilton Head," said Cink, and that April victory was bittersweet. Rarely has a winner looked so uncomfortable upon accepting a trophy, but Cink survived a controversial episode on the fifth playoff hole against Ted Purdy. Cink cleared loose impediments from behind his ball in a waste bunker, was implicated by the TV police, then cleared by rules official Slugger White. Purdy initially claimed he was at peace with the outcome, then had a second opinion. "It bothered me for a while," admitted Cink, who could handle the gallows humor -- his nickname became "Goldfinger" -- but not the allegation that he'd sinned. Purdy also theorized he would not have received a similar break from authorities as did the more famous Cink. (Purdy was spared a penalty earlier in the tournament when another rules official, Jon Brendle, spotted an incorrect drop before it was too late.)

"I was disappointed when Ted told me right after it ended that he had no problems, then changed his story the next day," Cink said. "We didn't see each other until more than a month later at Memphis, and he apologized. It was over by then. I did nothing wrong, but, no, I didn't enjoy Hilton Head as much as I could have." Cink, unbeaten in the 2000 Presidents Cup, was primed for the 2001 Ryder Cup when the world changed on 9/11.

"A year later, after the delay, my game had regressed," Cink said. "I didn't do very well at The Belfry, but I'm a lot better player than I was then. I have to thank that man right there." His swing guru, Butch Harmon, stopped by to shake hands. "Nice putt," said Harmon, after Cink had walked off the 18th green, a football field, with a birdie Sunday. On the PGA Tour putting stats, Cink ranks No. 1. Sutton was well aware of that number, too.

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