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Cink used to Woods hype

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

AUGUSTA -- Monday was dominated by the media circus that was Tiger Woods' return to tournament golf at the 2010 Masters.

Even a day later, there was no escaping the formidable shadow of the four-time Masters champion for most of the players in this year's field during their Tuesday press conferences.

That included reigning British Open champion Stewart Cink, who fielded almost as many questions about the 14-time majors winner as he did about the state of his own game.

However, rather than bristling at such questions, Cink embraced them.

When asked if he preferred being paired with Woods or Tom Watson, whom he defeated in a playoff to win the British Open last summer at Turnberry, Cink quipped, "I'd play with T.W. any day -- either one."

The question of whether any player would prefer to be paired with Woods given all the attention seemed rather relevant -- especially to Cink, who has been paired with him more times than anyone in this year's field.

However, Cink doesn't believe being paired with the PGA Tour's most recognizable player will be any different than before.

"Well, you're right that I've been paired with him a lot," Cink said. "That's a product of a lot of things. I mean, we had parallel careers as far as the number of times we have played. That's about where it ends.

"So, we have played a lot of the same Masters and we have been paired a few times. I would not be surprised at all if I was one of the names in a small group that would be considered for a pairing with him, but we have no way of knowing that at all.

"It's always a little different playing with Tiger at the Masters than it is anywhere else because of the patron anticipation of his round and the scrutiny and everything is so intense here, that it just feels a little different than other places," he continued. "I would expect that whoever plays with him this week, me or somebody else, that it would be probably similar to other Masters experiences playing with Tiger -- (maybe) a little different, but it's always fun."

As it turned out, the luck of the draw dictated that fellow Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar and South Korean K.J. Choi would be paired with Tiger for the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.

Cink will tee off with Charl Schwartzel and three-time majors champion Padraig Harrinton at 1:20 p.m. Thursday -- two groups ahead of the Tiger trio, which tees off at 1:42 p.m.

Though he has a pair of top-10 finishes in six starts so far in 2010, Cink is hoping to give his season somewhat of a kickstart at Augusta National.

He is also looking for a performance more like the one he gave in 2008 when he tied for third. Last year, however, Cink missed the cut for just the third time in 12 Masters starts.

"I've been struggling a little bit with my game this year, a couple good tournaments here and there, but not really happy (with) the way I've been playing," Cink said. "Just throwing away rounds and not getting a lot out of my rounds. I'm hoping that this week will provide a major spark for me and I will just get excited."

What has Cink excited most is the chance at another major championship just eight months after earning his first at Turnberry.

However, he points out the challenge now lies in winning more than just one, especially if it comes on arguably the game's biggest stage.

"First of all, I'm happy that I'm even in the conversation that my career will one day be judged by how many majors I win, because that means I've got one, so I'm very pleased with that," Cink said. "I've never really thought about it, though. I think it's a combination of majors and wins total. So, I've got six wins on the Tour in my years and I'm not really satisfied with that. I think I could've done more. If I win another major or two, I'll be willing to forgive myself for not having more than six wins.

"Over the years, I've gained more respect for the Masters than any of the other majors," Cink added. "I feel like it's the pinnacle of professional golf nowadays. So, I would cherish this win probably more than any other major if I would win this tournament."