May 3, 2008

Cink has to learn rules the hard way

CHARLOTTE -- By the time this season ends, Stewart Cink may be a walking authority on the rules of the golf.

Or at least a couple of the more bizarre ones.

Cink shot 65 in the third round of the Wachovia Championship on Saturday, to move into contention, albeit five shots back of leader Anthony Kim, at 8-under par. In the span of about 20 minutes after his round ended, his score went from 65 to 67 back to 65 after a lesson in the rules at the par-3 17th hole.

At the 17th, Cink ripped a 4-iron 230 yards into the wind. The ball hit the concrete-like green and rolled past the flag that was tucked in the back center. The ball was headed for a watery demise in the lake that guards the back of the green. Somehow the ball came to rest in the center of the rock wall, about the width of a table top, surrounding the green.

The ball was nestled in a depression in the mortar between the rocks about 25 feet from the cup. Cink took his putter, whacked down on the ball and it popped out like a mini-chip, landed on the green, turned right and went in for a birdie.

"I had one foot of rock, a foot of hazard grass and about three yards of rough and 15 feet of green," Cink said. "It broke a little right and it went in."

But Cink also knew he had a problem.

While trying to get as low as possible to line up the putt, Cink's hand touched the ground inside the hazard line. Can't do that. At least that's what Cink thought.

"Clumsily, I used my hand to balance to get really low," Cink said. "My hand happened to be inside the hazard, and I was, like, 'Oh no, what did I just do?'"

Cink wasn't sure what was going to happen, but decided to finish the round before asking. After holing out at 18 for either a 67 or a 65, low round of the tournament, he checked with rules official Tony Wallin, who originally said it was a two-shot penalty. But after checking the rule book a little more and with Jon Brendle, a tournament official at the 17th who saw nothing wrong, it was determined Cink could use his hand for balance. Wallin even phoned the United States Golf Association, which sets the rules, to make sure.

"Normally, with the rules of golf, you want to settle it right there (when it happens)," Cink said, "but it was the right thing to do in this case."

And instead of a 67, he had a 65 and a shot to win today.

Which is better than what happened at the Zurich Open in New Orleans in March. After shooting a second-round 71 and seven holes into his third round, Cink was disqualified for something that happened 24 hours earlier.

Cink hit a tee shot into the edge of a fairway bunker. With one foot in the bunker, he hit his second shot into a greenside bunker. His caddy, as any caddy would do, raked his foot print.

Raking the footprint in one bunker before hitting from another, at the time, was considered testing the condition of the hazard.

Bet you've called that on your Sunday foursome a lot, right?

The next day, Cink talked to Zach Johnson, a tournament official and playing partner Paul Goydos about the ridiculous rule.

On the second hole, he told Goydos "I bet I've done that myself."

"Then it just popped into my head," Cink said. "I did that yesterday."

He informed a rules official and kept playing.

"Played five holes dead man walking," Cink said, laughing at it now. "At seven, they picked me up in a golf cart."

And Cink went home to watch golf on TV.

The ridiculous rule was changed a week later.

"If Zach hadn't said anything, the rule would be the same today," Cink said.

It's been kind of a crazy year for Cink anyway. He has yet to win, finishing second at the PODs Championship and to Tiger Woods in the Accenture Match Play.

At the PODs, Cink said, "I didn't play well enough to win for four or five holes."

Against Woods, who he called "the best player in history," Cink said with a chuckle, "you could say I was tied for the lead going into the final round (36-hole match play), but it would have taken my best effort to stay even the way he played."

"I've gotten what I deserved this year," he said.

If not for a chat with himself during the first round at Quail Hollow on Thursday, Cink probably wouldn't have been around for the weekend to test the rule book. Through 12 holes on Thursday, Cink was 5-over par.

"I was supposed to be watching golf on TV this weekend," Cink joked, "but I gave myself a pep talk. Gave myself a pep talk on the third fairway, which was my 12th hole. I proceeded to make bogey."

But he reminded himself to settle down, that he'd played pretty well this year and not to get distracted. He put his head down and started making some shots.

Over the course of the last six holes, he made four birdies to finish 1-over. He shot 70 on Friday and on Saturday had "one of those days where a lot of putts went in from all over the place."

"Long putts, short putts, from rock walls."

Cink had 23 putts, including six one-putts on the front and five on the back. The one off the green at 17 didn't even count as a putt.

But that flirtation with the rules could add up to fat paycheck today, maybe even a win.

"Shows what can happen when you bear down and treat every shot like it's a new match," Cink said.

And get a little break from the rules.

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