The last man picked for the Ryder Cup team, then first at Firestone from start to finish.
No wonder Stewart Cink says his confidence is at an all-time high.
Six days after U.S. captain Hal Sutton added him to the team, Cink completed the best performance of his career by turning the final round of the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, into a showcase of poise and putting. He never let anyone within two shots of the lead to become the first wire-to-wire winner on the PGA Tour this year.
"This is huge," Cink said after a 15-foot birdie on the 18th for an even-par 70 and a four-shot victory over Tiger Woods and Rory Sabbatini. "It means so much to win in this style . . . and never really make it close."
He had been 0-6 when he had a lead going into the final round, a statistic that wore on him even with a five-shot cushion during the final round on a tough Firestone South course.
"I know I can be a front-runner just like anyone else," he said. "And I can polish it off."
Cink finished at 11-under 269 and earned $1.2 million for his first World Golf Championship title.
Sutton was flying to New York, where he will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange today, but he was hardly surprised.
"I know he's been playing great. I've been watching him for three months, watching him get better," Sutton said. "This doesn't make me feel any better. I feel just as strongly about him as when I picked him."
Woods, the best front-runner in golf, was merely a bystander, just like everyone else. He bogeyed the first hole by chipping through the green and into a bunker, and never got closer than five shots. Woods finished with a 69.
He kept alive his streak of never finishing worse than fifth at Firestone in seven appearances, and he will keep another amazing going -- 263 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the world.
"I wish I would have won the tournament," Woods said. "The number one ranking takes care of itself with wins. I was trying to win a tournament, and I just wasn't able to do it."
* PGA TOUR: Rookie Vaughn Taylor claimed his first PGA Tour victory, rolling in an 11-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to win a four-way playoff at the Reno-Tahoe Open in Nevada.
Taylor made a 14-foot birdie putt on the last hole of regulation for a 3-over 75 and tied hometown favorite Scott McCarron (71), rookie Hunter Mahan (74) and Australia's Steve Allan (74) at 10-under 278.
In the playoff, McCarron missed a 14-foot birdie putt, and Mahan failed to convert from 16 feet. Allan's approach to the 429-yard, par-4 18th came up short.
* LPGA TOUR: Catriona Matthew rolled in a short par putt on the first playoff hole to beat defending champion Hee-Won Han and win the Wendy's Championship for Children in Dublin, Ohio.
Matthew shot a 4-under 68 for a 10-under 278 total, earning her second career LPGA title and first since 2001.
Matthew and Han, playing in the same group, each parred the 18th in regulation to force the playoff. Han's four-footer barely slid in the side of the cup.
* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Doug Tewell won't be returning the putter he borrowed from fellow Champions Tour pro Walter Hall anytime soon.
Tewell borrowed the putter, a Ping Anser model, after Friday's first round of the Greater Hickory Classic in Conover, N.C. Yesterday he used it to sink a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole and claim victory with a tournament-low 8-under-par 64.
* U.S. AMATEUR: Ryan Moore won the last four holes to beat Luke List, 2 up, in the 36-hole final at the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.