Looking for hardware in Champions debut
In a week already filled with firsts, a hole-in-one by Stewart Cink on the PGA Tour Champions might be the lasting memory he’ll take with him from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
Unless, of course, he can rally from three shots back with 18 holes to play Sunday, to win in his maiden voyage on the 50-and-over tour.
Cink shot a 5-under 67 in Saturday’s third round, but only managed to pick up one shot on leader Padraig Harrington (68). Cink was at 203 through 54 holes, while Harrington was at 200. Steve Stricker tied the course record with a 64 and zoomed into second place, one shot back.
But it was Cink’s ace on No. 13 and Harrington’s extended bathroom break on No. 16 that were the post-round topics on Saturday.
With playing partners Harrington and Katsumasa Miyamoto already in tight to the pin, Cink, the former Florence resident who now resides in Atlanta, stepped to the 13th tee with 6-iron in hand for the 191-yard shot.
Here’s his version of the round-changing shot:
“It was perfect. The shot was a tough shot today because the pin was in the back left and the wind was out of the left. So, really the shot there was not to be going at the flag and I really wasn’t to be honest. I was aimed about six yards right…. I just happened to kind of draw it a little bit more up against that wind and it took off on a really nice line.
Stewart Cink: ‘I didn’t even watch it’
“And to be honest I didn’t even watch it finish. I saw, when it landed, I knew it was going to be a good shot. It looked a lot like [Harrington, Miyamoto]. And the people on the tee reacted as if it was a good shot. So, I turned and kind of just faced them and gave a little nod and then that’s when it went in. And up by the green everyone kind of went crazy.
“I didn’t get to see it because I was turned the opposite direction like a dummy. But shots like that, it came off perfect for a hole-in-one. It didn’t come off perfect for the shot planned, but that’s why we plan to be out to the right a little bit because from what amounts to about a 200-yard shot there, like a full 6-iron, you’re not going to be dead on your target every time. You have to give yourself a little buffer and today that flag stick happened to be my buffer.”
Cink is uncertain on whether his hole-in-one total is eight or nine, but he said all of them except for one have been on the PGA Tour and now the Champions Tour.
Not a lot of holes-in-one
“I don’t make a lot of hole-in-ones because I don’t play that much when I’m home,” he said. “But I have made one that I remember at home and the rest of ’em have been official.”
Harrington’s version was that the two good shots ahead forced Cink to go for the pin.
“So that was two exceptionally aggressive shots and we intimidated the 6-foot-5 tall Stewart Cink into going for the pin. And he hit a beauty too,” Harrington said.
Harrington showed off his vertical leap when giving Cink a high-five for the ace.
“Clearly I’m 6-1. But the wing span on Stewart is pretty high. I didn’t want to be left hanging,” Harrington said. “Those high fives for professional golfers can be, yeah, a bit cringy, aren’t they? In my head I actually was floating for a few seconds. I was floating. I was just hanging there for a while.”
Stewart Cink on coming from four shots back
Cink began the day four shots behind Harrington and fell as many as seven shots back after a mediocre front nine. He gave his wife/caddie Lisa credit for helping get things turned around on the final nine along with some help from Harrington.
“Lisa said, ‘You know, you’re playing fine, but the big thing is that you’re just seven back of Harrington now. He’s kind of like separated himself.’ She said, Let’s just try to like kind of pick our way back into sort of like shouting distance here,” he said.
That pep talk seemed to get Cink going, and from there he made three birdies and the ace.
“It kind of gave me confidence to just instead of getting it all back at once I could just kind of pick away at it,” he said.
“And then, what do you know, the ball finds the hole on 10. And then the ball finds the hole on 13. And then I made a good up-and-down on 14. Kind of got lucky on 15. Padraig made a mistake along the way. So next thing you know we’re back within shouting distance. So, I got to give my illustrious caddie some credit for that one.”
And then, the bathroom break
Harrington’s lead was three shots going to the 16th hole when a bathroom break went longer than anticipated. He proceeded to make a double bogey when his approach shot on the par 4 found a greenside penalty area.
Cink acknowledged that trailing Harrington by three and Stricker by two will be a tall task to overcome. But he’s ready to enjoy the moment.
“It’s probably the two players you don’t want to be behind in this tournament, to be honest,” Cink said. “The two guys who probably fit this course the best and have the best experience and confidence over their last handful of seasons out here.
“I’ve got the firepower to play with those guys or take over this thing, but it’s going to be a dog fight tomorrow. I think there’s going to be a lot of good golf.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
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Images courtesy of the PGA Tour Champions