Stewart Cink ready for adversity with five-shot lead at RBC Heritage –

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 Safeway Open 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.

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