U.S. Amateur champion Tiger Woods is the No. 1 name in college golf this season, but Stewart Cink has the No. 1 game. Cink, a 21-year-old senior at Georgia Tech and the top-ranked player in the nation, has defeated Woods in head-to-head play four limes this season and is preparing for another showdown in the NCAA championships at Ohio State University May 31—June 3.
Last week, Cink got into the BellSouth Classic by surviving a six-way playoff in the Monday qualifier and with opening rounds of 71 and 72 made the cut. That in itself was an accomplishment. Woods played in seven PGA Tour events before he made his first cut at this year's Masters. Two weeks before that, Cink played Woods in a match between Georgia Tech and Stanford at Druid Hills Country Club in Atlanta. Cink won 3 and 2. They played out the remaining two holes, and Cink shot 66 to Woods's 72.
"Tiger deserves all the attention," Cink said last week. "He's so young, and he's done so many things I haven't done and not a lot of people have done. I just want to let the scores I'm shooting talk for me. I don't care much about publicity. I'm not so comfortable in situations where people know who I am and I don't know who they are."
Cink lied for fifth in last year's NCAAs and tied for eighth last month in the ACC championships. He has won three college tournaments this year and has the type of game that should allow him to follow Georgia Tech alumni Larry Mize, Charlie Rymer and David Duval onto the PGA Tour. Several sports-management companies think so, and they have been recruiting Cink heavily since the beginning of the golf season.
At Atlanta Country Club, the 6'4" Cink sank on Saturday, making a triple bogey and a double bogey to shoot 78. But on Sunday he was back in Cink, shooting 70 to finish tied for 68th. "I learned that I can play out here," Cink said. "I've still got a long way to go with my putting and my strategy, but, you know, one day I think I'll have a chance to do something. I just need to make more birdies. College doesn't train you to make birdies the way the pros do."
Cink was slow to develop at Georgia Tech, but he eventually rounded into form, possibly out of necessity. He married in the summer of 1993, before his junior year, and soon had a son to support. "I believe things happen for a reason," says Georgia Tech coach Puggy Blackmon. "Having a family has made Stewart more focused and determined, and yet it has also allowed him to develop a great perspective. Stewart was a very good player before this year. Now he's a dominant player."
There was a time when Cink considered transferring to Auburn, where his wife, Lisa, was on academic scholarship. Instead she transferred to Georgia Tech, and they'll both graduate in four weeks, Lisa with a degree in biology and Stewart with one in management. Cink plans to turn pro before going to qualifying school, in order to start providing some income for his family. After his Saturday round at the BellSouth, he stroked putts on the practice green while his father, Rob, looked on. "I think I can get used to this life," Rob Cink said.
The way his son is playing, he should have the opportunity to do just that.