Spoilsport Cink is cast as villain of the piece

He has been labelled 'Stewart Stink' and 'Public Enemy No 1' for ruining Watson's Open dream, but James Corrigan explains why Sunday was really a tale of redemption

Each one of the protagonists of Sunday night's drama had their own way of dealing with the intense emotion of it all. Their reactions in the aftermath told their different stories. Indeed, put together they nicely summed up the entire story.

Chris Wood jumped into his car with his girlfriend and made the seven-hour drive from Ayrshire to Bristol without uttering a single word.

Lee Westwood stared at a drinks machine for 15 minutes and then rubbed his face in his hands, over and over.

Tom Watson had an early night, checked out of the Turnberry Hotel at 6am, queued up with the punters going through security at Glasgow Airport and then laughed when his false hip set off the alarms.

And Stewart Cink? He chartered a private plane down to Manchester Airport and then set off for the States ensuring that a rather famous Claret Jug had its own seat. By then Cink would have been relieved that somebody, or something, was actually prepared to sit next to him... Such are the trappings of failure and the unfairness of glory.

In truth, Cink had instantly realised this would not be as simple as winner and losers. All the focus was destined to fall on the runner-up and come complete with its "what if?" prefix. The burning question was to centre around a 59-year-old coming within one firm bounce of an eight-iron of winning the 138th Open Championship and what exactly that said about the game of golf. One idiotic commentator dismissed it as a sport, while most came to the opinion that it in fact defined it as the ultimate sport. Yet during all of this nobody thought to consider what it said about Stewart Cink.

Well they did, but only in the cruellest of senses. In different outlets he was called "Stewart Stink", "The Man Who Killed Bambi" and "Public Enemy No 1". At the champion's press conference he was given a taster of the morning's headlines. He was asked what it felt like to be the Hollywood villain who stole the girl. While he was obliged to point out, "I have nothing to feel ashamed or disappointed about," he was all but half-Nelsoned into admitting he did have "mixed feelings" in that play-off. The suspicion was that his inquisitors wouldn't have had it any other way.

Was any of this necessary? The world didn't care. Sport was in grieving and Cink was culpable. That was inevitable. The 36-year-old had reduced the incredible to the credible.

For Cink has been a major champion in waiting for many years. Everyone knew this. Even those not completely immersed in golf. His name has been around the Ryder Cup and the big-time leaderboards long enough to establish him as a perennial, but strangely unfulfilled, contender. All the way back to 2001, in fact. At the US Open at Southern Hills he had stood over a two-footer which would have earned him a place in the play-off with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. Believing Goosen was certain to two-putt from 12-feet, Cink hurried his tiddler and missed. And so came the astonishing Goosen blunder and so came the years of Cink uncertainty.

He did not win for three years but even when he did the deep-rooted frustration would still not take its leave. Last year's Travelers Championship was just his fifth PGA Tour victory. Eight years on from Tulsa and the doubts still swirled. "It wouldn't be human to not wonder if that was going to be my closest one," said Cink on Sunday, when he was eventually allowed to talk about himself and, as American pros always seem to nowadays, God.

"There were always some doubts there and it lingered a little bit. That's golf. You put yourself out there in front of the world stage and sometimes you're going to be embarrassed a little bit. Now hopefully I can move past it. I've had a couple of wins since then, but this is a new chapter for me."

It is a chapter that could yet see him emerge as someone rather more than the shaven-headed thug who stole £750,000 off a pensioner. From his home, nearby Cink's in Florida, Jack Nicklaus put the achievement and the downplaying of it, into its perspective. "This was absolutely Watson's Open, win or lose," he said. "But I am also very happy for Stewart Cink. Stewart was on several of my Presidents Cup teams. He was a terrific member of those teams, and he has been a very talented and deserving player for a long time. This victory is a stepping-stone in his life, and it validates his career. But unfortunately in this case... well, I was hoping for the old folk to finish it off."

As was everyone. But old Tom couldn't and old Tom didn't. Cool Cink did. And boy, did he pay for it.

Open verdict: Who came up roses and who felt the thorns

Winners

Veteran section Tom Watson's near miss will surely inspire the retired generation to take to the fairways in greater numbers. As someone put it: "Is this just a flash in bedpan?" Golf clubs should strike while the old boys' irons are hot.

Turnberry Due to smaller crowds – put off by the remote setting – the Royal and Ancient's revenues are down. But such is the beauty of the scenery and the quality of the course, Turnberry's place on the Open roster is guaranteed.

Junior section At 16 years of age Matteo Manassero struck his own blows not only for Italian golf but also for the pimply generation. The amateur finished in the top 20 and followed the lead of Chris Wood, who a year after coming fifth as a 20-year-old, achieved a podium placing as a rookie pro.

Losers

British golf Hard to label this event a failure, seeing as Britain had two in the top four and three in the top seven. But this was the 10-year anniversary of the last British major victory. It won't be long before the word "curse" is used.

Tiger Woods Did he really miss his first cut in an Open? Woods' early exit was supposed to be an atmosphere-sucker. But the excitement only started when he was at home at Orlando.

Colin Montgomerie In an interview with The Independent Sandy Lyle accused the Ryder Cup captain of "a form of cheating" and so the Open had its scandal. Monty will pray the rumpus will die down. But the word on the range is that it still has legs. Will anyone else dare come out on the record in support of Lyle? Monty has 15 months to survive.

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