BETH MURRISON: Good afternoon from the 2010 U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links. We are honored to have Stewart Cink in the interview room, the reigning British Open champion. He's playing in his 15th U.S. Open. He finished the top‑10 in 2010. Can you talk about what it means to play the U.S. Open at this golf course?
STEWART CINK: Well, I think if St. Andrews is the home of golf, I think Pebble Beach kind of feels like the home of American golf. I know other places probably disagree with that, like Pinehurst would probably lay claim to that. But Pebble Beach feels like the home of championship golf.
It goes all the way back to ‑‑ it predates even the U.S. Open play here with the Crosby Clambake, and now the AT&T Pro Am. So it has a real sense of history here. And there's so many shots we've seen over the years by Watson, Nicklaus, Tiger and just the course has relatively remained unchanged.
It feels great to be back here on the west coast in the cool air playing for this tournament. It just feels right. It feels right right here.
BETH MURRISON: You said, although you said that the course remains greatly unchanged, you've played a few times this week, and there have been some changes. Can you talk about some of the changes you've seen out here this week that would be different than the past.
STEWART CINK: There are some changes, but the character of the course remains the same. They enhanced where the ocean comes into play at most. Any of the holes that border the cliff, like start with 4 ‑‑ 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 17, and 18, those holes all have shifted their fairways towards the cliff more and they've eliminated the rough between the fairways and the cliff, which adds a lot more anxiety to your shots on those holes, because the slopes also carry the ball right to those edges, and there's nothing to stop it. I think there's going to be a lot of conservative play off the tees on those holes, for a good reason, because it's so easy to hit your ball in there. It makes the course look very unique. And it's a good job done by the setup guys that had the vision for that.
Q. On that note about the vision, I mean Mike Davis has really had an impact on the way the USGA is setting up this Open champion in the last few years. Can you just talk about sort of the shift and their philosophy from what seemed like a much more punitive style of setup to a much more playable style. Do you like that and what do you think about the change?
STEWART CINK: Well, yeah, I think ‑‑ first of all I don't quite understand it, because the old way and the punitive way or if you miss a fairway you're basically chipping out. The score hasn't really changed a whole lot. It's not like we're all shooting way under par now, because you can hit your ball from the rough toward the green. That has not been the case. The scoring has not been low ‑‑ where were we last year? Lucas, was he the only guy under par, two or three guys shooting right under par. Bethpage is a huge golf course, but going back a few years before that, you had over par scores winning and in San Diego at Torrey Pines it was 1‑under got in the playoff, I think.
So these setups are not yielding low scores, but they're ‑‑ I think the players are enjoying it, and the spectators like it, it looks great.
Now of course here on the west coast this time of the year you have the luxury of being in complete control of the way the course sets up, because they literally have 100 percent control over how much water goes on it, there's not like a thunderstorm could come in and wreck the place like in the east. They've really done a magnificent job with the course here and in the few years previous.
Q. How would you assess your level of performance over the last few months since your special win last year?
STEWART CINK: Over the last few months I would say improving, but still nothing great. I really had started the year off with sort of a weak stretch and my confidence was a little low, missed the cut at the Masters and THE PLAYERS.
And so I just made some changes with my short game and just tried to work hard on that and I really felt like I was not saving myself enough around the greens. And so slowly I've been seeing those results come a little bit more and feeling much more comfortable. The last three tournaments I've played I've had top‑25 finishes, it's improving a bit. Instead of going out there with confidence that important things are going to happen, I'm going out with confidence, period.
Q. I would ‑‑ when you got one tucked under your belt, is there in a sense a little bit of pressure to go out there and get a second or what is it like for you?
STEWART CINK: No, I think it's less pressure, because the most pressure is on the ‑‑ trying to win the first one. And then after that I think in your mind you feel like there's doors open, there's nothing to be afraid of.
You know, half the players here don't want the responsibility coming down the stretch with a lead at a Major. It's not an easy thing to do. Once you've done that you release yourself from that encumbrance, so you feel like ‑‑ a little bit more freed up to go ahead and perform and just play golf. And I think it's a little bit easier.
Q. Could you discuss your recollections from 2000, particularly specific to being in the top‑10 of a tournament that was, even a Major tournament at that, that was basically over on Saturday afternoon?
STEWART CINK: Well, it was over from y'all's perspective, but from our perspective we had a lot to play for, even though we weren't going to win. But to finish one spot higher, even if it's 19th to 18th, that means a lot to us. We had a lot to play for.
I do remember that the tournament was affected in a big way by the draw. Because there was one or two days, maybe on the weekend days where it was really windy in the afternoons. So if you played in the morning ‑‑ like I barely made the cut ‑‑ I played okay, maybe shot 1‑ or 2‑over, so I played fairly early again on Sunday and played pretty well that day and maybe shot even par or 1‑under, the whole afternoon was spent just watching my name climb further and further up the leaderboard as everybody else had wrecks out there.
It was a top‑10 for me, but it was asterisk top‑10, because I finished early and everybody encountered the wind that I didn't have to deal with, except for the last few holes.
The story for myself, other than Tiger putting together the best four rounds ever played, the story for me is the draw can affect how this thing plays. If it happens this way, especially ‑‑ the course is a lot more severe than it was then. And if it happens again this year, we can see not only high scores, but we can see four or five groups waiting on a couple of tees, where it's hard to finish some holes out here if it's windy out here.
Q. Somewhat related to your comment on players maybe not wanting the responsibility of being in the lead or contention down the stretch, do you think it's valid that there's been an intimidation factor with playing Tiger in the final rounds in Majors in recent years and do you believe ‑‑ if you do believe that, do you see that starting to erode, now that he hasn't finished dominant in the recent past?
STEWART CINK: The second part of your question I don't really know if I see it eroding or not, because ‑‑ I don't know, I haven't really thought much about that.
The first part I think it's true that there's an intimidation factor, not that he's trying to intimidate anybody, but it is intimidating when you play in a group and you know the fans only care about the other guy. It's not that they don't cheer for you, they don't care what you're doing. And it's a little unsettling when you're out there trying your guts out and you're putting everything into something and it's a little ‑‑ feels a little like you're being a little disrespected, but that's just the nature of the beast.
If you just go look at the facts, I think the scoring average of the players that have been in his group, first, especially for a time period there, like from probably around 2000 through 2008 or 9, maybe through last year, where their scoring average was higher. So you can certainly say that the statistics point to that.
So, yeah, I would say ‑‑ it's hard to play and finish off a tournament when you've got a lot of stress on you and you've got the added stress that you know that all the people watching want him to win. It's just hard to do.
Q. Last year at the British didn't you make a ball change to a less spinning ‑‑ a less ball that way? If you did, which I'm remembering that you did, what led up to that? Because you did it just prior to a Major or during midstream, didn't you?
STEWART CINK: Well, what led up to it was it was a ball that I used for the better part of about three years. And then I tried some other balls that spun more last season, I tried about two or three of Nike's models.
And before the British I decided to go back to the one that spun less, because of the cold over there. And I didn't think spin was that important. So, yes, I changed. I didn't change to something that was unfamiliar to me, because I used it for a long time. When I won the tournament and came back over I just stayed with it. And that's basically the motivation.
Q. If it gets a little bit windy here, do you figure that ball is going to help you here stay low?
STEWART CINK: I still use it. I have changed slightly to a very slightly softer covered ball this year because of the new grooves. But the ball I use is very similar to that one. It's a harder ‑‑ if you look at all the universe of golf balls on the PGA TOUR or in the U.S. Open, my ball probably falls in the 25 percent towards the firmer side.
Yes, it is a very good wind ball. And that will be a factor if it gets really windy. But I think that the wind here, this air is so heavy that if the wind blows, a lot, all golf balls are going to be blowing all over the place, and it's really going to become more of a short game contest.
Q. A couple of Phil questions, here. He's been runner up in this event five times in the last 11 years. Some people might say, well, it's a bit of a failure because he hasn't won it. In another way is he possibly one of the best U.S. Open players that is around today?
STEWART CINK: Well, his record is great. Without winning to have that many runner up finishes, yeah. They say winning is everything, but to finish second you've got to play some great golf.
His short game is really imaginative and really reliable. So his style of play from tee‑to‑green is not really what you would think of a U.S. Open‑type guy. But then again he just ‑‑ he does have a knack for creating all kind of different things out of what you think is nothing. And that I think that easily lends well to these courses because you have to have a lot of creativity and imagination. And everybody is going to put themselves in the jail. He does a good job getting out of it.
I think he's got a great U.S. Open record. And he's really learned to play the U.S. Open‑type courses, because he's always got a belief in himself.
Q. The other thing is I think since 1999 Tiger is not the only bookmaker's favorite this week. Phil has the exact same odds as Tiger. Does that feel right considering the way he's been playing in this tournament and recently, that he should be, maybe, he's the guy you're shooting for, he and Westwood, as much as Tiger?
STEWART CINK: Well, I think that has more to do with the course. I think Phil and Tiger both love playing here, and they've both had some success here over the years.
Phil is probably ‑‑ he's got a lot of confidence going right now, and they probably think Tiger has some question marks. So that's probably got brought the odds pretty close to even. I'm no bookmaker or gambler, but that's what I would assume.
I also would assume if you had this tournament anywhere this particular week that would probably be the case.
BETH MURRISON: Thank you very much for joining us today. We wish you well this week.STEWART CINK: Thank you.