Rarely has a defending champion arrived at an Open quite as unheralded as Stewart Cink.
The good-natured 37-year-old from Alabama has still not been forgiven in some quarters for trampling Tom Watson into the Turnberry dirt a year ago, during a four-hole play-off that finished anticlimactically for everyone except Cink and his overjoyed family.
But Cink doesn't want or need to be greeted by heralds. The 138th Open might forever be remembered as the one that Watson lost rather than the one that Cink won, yet it is his name in the record books, and more importantly, on the Claret Jug itself.
Yesterday, incidentally, he was asked about his year-long stewardship of the Claret Jug, a topic of media interest ever since Padraig Harrington's son sized up the venerable vessel and asked if he could put ladybirds in it. Cink replied that he had asserted his right to fill it with his favourite beer, Guinness, and that his children had later drunk Coca-Cola from it. It was even used to baste the Fourth of July barbecue. Old Tom Morris will be spinning in his grave.
As for another old Tom, Cink had barely settled into his seat at yesterday's press conference before being asked, bluntly, whether 12 months on he still thinks about “being the guy who prevented us all from writing up a fairy tale?” Golf writers can be a merciless bunch. “A little bit,” the world number 38 replied. “But in no way has it taken anything off what I felt from last year, and the joy I've been able to have being the Open champion has been almost indescribable. It's just fantastic.” And no, he added, he does not feel sorry for Watson.
“I don't feel sorry for him because he got five Claret Jug titles and I only have one, (but) it was a spectacular display that he put on last year,” he said.
The last time they played together was a practice round over the Old Course on Tuesday. That was at Watson's suggestion, a characteristically thoughtful demonstration that he feels only respect for the man who capitalised on his poignant collapse last year.
In the wind and rain sweeping in from the North Sea yesterday, the lesson was even more challenging than usual, especially battling into elements on the back nine that Cink described as “virtually unplayable”.
Ye hardly anyone was happier to be in the Kingdom of Fife on a gruesome day than the defending champion, reminded by the presence here of former winners stretching back more than 50 years of the illustrious company he now keeps. “Do I feel like my name matches up to everyone on that list? No way. But am I worthy to be on the Claret Jug? Yes, because I played as well as I played for 72 holes last year at Turnberry (and) when it counted I was able to come through and polish it off.”