Planet Golf — 16 April 2021 by GW staff and news services
Cink never threatened; wins by four

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Stewart Cink shot a steady, stress-free 70 to cap off a dominant, record-breaking week and win his third RBC Heritage title on Sunday.

The 47-year-old Cink finished at 19-under 265 at Harbour Town, four better than Emiliano Grillo and Harold Varner III. Grillo shot a 68 while Varner, who had the highest finish of his career, fired a 66.

Cink hugged his son and caddie, Reagan, after his closing par on the 18th green. He, wife Lisa and their other son, Connor, all had their arms around each other to celebrate.

“I don’t even know if I have the words,” Stewart Cink said.

He won for the second time this season — only he and Bryson DeChambeau have done that — and continued his resurgence on the PGA TOUR at a time when many pros his age are looking ahead to the PGA TOUR Champions.

Not Cink, who broke a 12-year winless streak at the Safeway Open in September and added five more top-20 finishes, including a tie for 12th last week at the Masters.

He won $1.278 million, nearly as much as the $1.404 million for his two previous victories at Harbour Town combined.

Cink is also just the fourth player to win twice in the same PGA TOUR season after turning 47. Sam Snead, Julius Boros and Kenny Perry, who accomplished it twice, are the others.

Cink put on show for the ages — shattering the lowest 36-hole score at Harbour Town of 13-under 129 shared by Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson. Cink also broke the 54-hole scoring mark of 16-under 197 that Justin Leonard had in his 2002 win.

Cink carried a five-shot lead into the final round and dared all chasers to come get him. Nobody made a run at Cink, who led by at least three shots throughout.

PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, paired with Cink, opened with a birdie. But bogeys on the second and fourth holes took Morikawa out of the mix.

Maverick McNealy has five birdies on the front nine to climb to 14-under, four back of Cink, in the middle of the round. Consecutive bogeys on the 11th and 12th ended McNealy’s surge.

Grillo and Varner came the closest at 15-under and were just three back until Cink’s final birdie at the par-3 17th, which made it all but certain he would add another plaid winner’s jacket to the ones he won here in 2000 and 2004.

Cink had made 17 birdies and two eagles the first three rounds. He had only two birdies Sunday, but that was more than enough to claim his eighth career PGA TOUR victory.

McNealy (67), Canada’s Corey Conners (68) and England’s Matt Fitzpatrick (68) tied for fourth at 13-under. Morikawa slipped to seventh after a 72, tied with Chris Kirk (67) at 12-under.

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson closed with his best round of the tournament at 66 to finish tied for 13th at 10-under. Johnson was the November Masters champ, yet missed the cut there last week and was never in contention at Harbour Town.

“I just feel like I made way too many mistakes,” he said. “Around here, you make mistakes, they penalize you pretty big.”


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Gap. Lead. Cushion.

Whatever you want to call it, Stewart Cink has it. He went into the weekend with a five-shot lead over Corey Conners, bogeyed the third hole just to remind everyone he’s human – it was his first bogey in 37 holes – and yet steadied himself for a 69 to reach 18 under. The lead? It’s still five.

Cink will play in the final group with Collin Morikawa (67) on Sunday as he looks to become the only multiple winner this season besides FedExCup No. 1 Bryson DeChambeau.

“I’ve been there before,” said Cink, 47, who is two for 12 at closing out 54-hole leads/co-leads on the PGA TOUR. “I’ve certainly been nervous and thrown up on myself and I’ve also played great in that situation. You know, I think it’s a lot better to embrace it and enjoy it and feel the tingle as opposed to trying to act like it’s not there.”

Morikawa, who at world No. 4 is the highest ranked player in the field other than top-ranked Dustin Johnson (71, T36), an RBC ambassador, hopes to pressure Cink early Sunday.

“Thankful to get three in a row and give myself at least somewhat of a shot come tomorrow,” said Morikawa, who birdied Nos. 13-15. “Yeah, I mean, it shows that there’s 62s, there’s 63s out on this golf course, I just have to go out there and find it. Each day I’ve shown little specks of good golf, I’ve just got to put it all together for tomorrow’s final round if I want a chance.”

With a victory Cink, who won the season-opening event in Napa last September and is coming off a T12 at the Masters, is projected to move from 26th to third in the FedExCup standings.

Will he win by five? Ten? Absent anyone from the chase pack going low, the main drama Saturday was the 4 o’clock flyover by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

What the leader is doing this week, this season, is plenty dreamy. He was 144th in the FedExCup and 300th in the Official World Golf Ranking after he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship to close out last season. He started this season with his son, Reagan, on the bag, and shot 65-65 on the weekend to win in Napa right out of the gate. It was his seventh TOUR win but the first in over 11 years, since the 2009 Open Championship. 

This week he “cranked” (his word) his opening tee shot into the water but went unconscious in a good way after that, going 63-63 to take a huge lead. They were his third and fourth rounds of 63 or better this season. He had three such rounds the previous three seasons combined.

“To shoot 8-under both rounds is incredible,” said Webb Simpson (64, T6).

Cink could have extended his lead Saturday but was admittedly a fraction off with the putter. He missed his par try from just inside five feet at the third hole, and his birdie attempt from just inside four feet at the par-5 15th hole. He was -1.464 in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Still, though, he “didn’t do a lot of damage” and wasn’t entirely disappointed.

“I was a little bit tied up in the results,” he said, “and it’s something I can recognize and hopefully get better at tomorrow. But it’s natural; it happens to everybody.” 

Part of the Cink revival goes to the influence of his caddie, Reagan. This was never supposed to be a long-term arrangement, as Reagan was out of college and had secured a job with Delta Airlines. Why caddie? In the end, though, they were simply too potent a team to break up.

“When you get on the golf course with Stewart and Reagan,” Simpson said, “they’re acting like player and caddie. They’re having fun, as usual, but I’m sure it’s been fun for Stewart to see Reagan kind of come into his own as a caddie.”

Cink has won here, of course, but that was back in 2000 and ’04.

The largest lead lost with 18 holes to play is six, a distinction held by seven players, most recently world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions.

Nothing is given and nothing is a foregone conclusion on TOUR.

“One of the things that we talked about before the round,” Cink said, “and I talked to (wife) Lisa about it, too, was expecting some adversity out there and being prepared for something like No. 3 where I missed a pretty easy putt, just a little left-to-righter, four feet, I think.”

He will no doubt see more adversity Sunday but says he’ll play his game and not obsess over Morikawa or anyone else. He’ll look at where he stands as he heads into the last three holes, or perhaps as he considers what to do with his second shot at the par-5 15th hole.

He’s looking forward to it.


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Two-time champion Stewart Cink moved into position for a third RBC Heritage title, shooting a second straight 63 to set the 36-hole scoring mark at Harbour Town.

Cink, 47, appears unstoppable after two amazing days. He sits at 16-under 126, five shots ahead of Corey Conners. The previous best midway score was 129, set by Jack Nicklaus en route to victory in 1975 and matched by Phil Mickelson, who wound up third in 2002.

Conners shot 64 and was 11 under. Emiliano Grillo (64) was another shot behind.

Fourth-ranked Collin Morikawa, preparing to defend his PGA Championship title next month, was tied for fourth at 9-under with Sungjae Im (65), Billy Horschel (67) and Cameron Smith, who followed his opening-round 62 with a 71.

Cink was hardly overwhelmed by the scores he posted, chalking them up to smart preparation and strong execution alongside his 24-year-old son, Reagan, who’s caddying for him.

“It doesn’t feel all that special, to be honest with you,” Cink said. “We just kind of worked our game plan.”

It was certainly unexpected. Cink hasn’t finished in the top 20 at Harbour Town in a decade, hadn’t led halfway since the Travelers Championship in 2008 and is closer to the PGA Tour Champions than his prime.

Yet Cink has had a renaissance on golf’s biggest stage this season. He won for the first time in 11 years at the Safeway Open in September and has added five top-20 finishes including a tie for 12th last week at the Masters.

Cink was down three shots to Conners when he teed off Friday.

No matter. Cink quickly erased the deficit with an eagle on the par-5 second and a birdie on No. 3. Cink moved in front with a birdie on the sixth and steadily built his margin the rest of the way, adding birdies on the 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th holes.

The veteran is two solid rounds away from adding a third plaid jacket to the two he earned in 2000 and 2004. In both of those wins, Cink came from behind on Sunday. This time he’ll need to just maintain his strong overall play.

Since Reagan became his caddie, father and son have been collaborating on strategy before tournaments.

“We call it bludgeoning and we’re just bludgeoning that plan almost to death,” the elder Cink said with a grin. “When you manage yourself around a course like that and execute, the golf courses yield.”

Connors entered the week with Masters momentum, having tied for eighth at Augusta National for his second top-10 finish there in five months. He birdied seven of his final 13 holes.

“Giving myself lots of chances and was really nice to see some go in,” Conners said. “Hopefully, can keep that up going into the weekend.”

Morikawa had chances, too, He had seven birdie opportunities from 20 feet or less on his final nine holes, but the only one that dropped was an 18-footer on No. 6.

Morikawa said changing wind conditions made it difficult to judge green speeds.

“It was tough not seeing a few birdies in,” he said. “But we’ll work on a few things and be fine for the weekend.”

Smith, who was bogey-free in his opening 62, dropped three shots in a five-hole stretch on Friday.

“I think the golfing gods got a few back on me today,” the Australian said.

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson used a back-nine surge to avoid his second straight missed cut and after leaving the Masters early, returning only to slip the green jacket on new champ Hideki Matsuyama. Consecutive bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes at Harbour Town dropped him to 1-under, but four birdies coming in gave him a 67 and left him 11 shots behind Cink.

Those going home included Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na, all among the top 30 in the FedEx Cup point standings this season.


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Cameron Smith birdied the difficult 17th and 18th holes at Harbour Town to shoot a 9-under 62, his career low on the PGA TOUR, and take a one-shot lead over Stewart Cink at the RBC Heritage on Thursday.

Cink finished his 63 around lunchtime and no one appeared likely to beat that score in overcast, breezier afternoon conditions. Yet Smith played his best down the challenging stretch.

The Australian chipped in for birdie on the par-3 17th, then stuck his approach to the lighthouse finishing hole within 5 feet to take the lead. Smith surpassed his previous low of 63, accomplished three times on TOUR.

The 47-year-old Cink shot his lowest score in 75 career rounds at Harbour Town — not bad, considering he won here in 2000 and 2004.

Collin Morikawa, who will defend his PGA Championship title up the South Carolina coast next month, shot 65 along with Matt Wallace. Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel and Harold Varner III shot 66.

Smith is coming off a tie for 10th at the Masters Tournament, his second strong finish in five months at Augusta National. He was runner-up to Dustin Johnson last November.

“I feel like Augusta really gets my mind going, my creativity going,” he said.

Smith got a free drop after his second shot to the par-5 15th was near a temporary structure and played it to 3 feet for birdie. He missed the fairway and the green on the 16th before pitching to 6 feet to save par.

He saved his best for the last two holes, where the winds off Calibogue Sound regularly batter shots that appear on the mark.

Smith’s tee shot on the par-3 17th landed in a bunker well below the putting surface. Smith figured it would be a difficult up-and-down until he saw a nice lie and more green to work with than he anticipated.

“The ball was sitting nice,” he said.

It sat in the cup after Smith’s next stroke, which moved him into a tie with Cink at 8 under.

On the 18th, Smith smashed a 3-wood down the middle of the fairway and a 9-iron to near tap-in range, matching Davis Love III in 2002 and Peter Lonard in 2005 for the lowest opening round at Harbour Town.

“That was the icing on the cake,” he said.

Smith has never finished better than 15th in five previous appearances at the Heritage and missed the cut the last two years.

“Everything just came together,” he said. “It was a great day on the greens. I was hitting my irons really good. I had lots of good looks, and I just took advantage of them.”

Cink is enjoying a late-career renaissance. He won his first tournament in 11 years this past September, added five more top-20 finishes including a tie for 12th at the Masters and has pocketed more than $1.9 million this season — his most since 2009, when he won The Open Championship.

Cink started on No. 10 and drove into the water left for a bogey.

“It got my attention,” Cink said. “We were really good and clean the rest of the way. No more mistakes. I played really, really well the rest of the way.”

Johnson opened with a 1-under 70. Will Zalatoris, the fast-rising 24-year-old who was runner-up to Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, played with Johnson and shot 68.

“Admittedly, I’m a little fried from last week,” Zalatoris said. “Coming out of the gates making a couple of birdies was nice. Kind of set the tone.”

Morikawa shot in the 60s for the fourth time in five rounds at Harbour Town and said it was one of his best rounds of the year, which already includes a victory.

It “puts a lot of confidence in my game,” he said.

Defending champion Webb Simpson, who set an event scoring record last year at 22 under, started with an even-par 71. He had shot in the 60s in 13 of his previous 16 rounds here.

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