NAPA, Calif. — Stewart Cink’s long wait is finally over. He doesn’t have to worry about being cast as a villain, either, as was the case when he outlasted fan favorite Tom Watson to win the 2009 British Open.
Sparked by a strong short game, Cink won the 2020-21 season-opening Safeway Open at 47 years old Sunday for his seventh PGA Tour victory and first since that win at Turnberry 11 years ago.
Making it more special? Cink won with 23-year-old son Reagan alongside as his caddie, with wife Lisa — in her fifth year of cancer remission — watching from beyond the ropes.
“I definitely had a lot of emotions out there today,” Cink said. “I just was overcome at a few times with a feeling of gratitude and just feeling, like, how fortunate I am to be in the position that I’m in. It all just kind of poured together into feeling like, ‘Wow, this is really special.'”
Cink closed with a 7-under-par 65 at Silverado Resort — rebounding from a bogey on the 17th with a birdie on the 18th — for a two-stroke victory over Harry Higgs, who closed with a 68 to finish at 19-under 269.
An Alabama native who lives in the Atlanta area played collegiately at Georgia Tech, Cink is the oldest PGA Tour winner since Phil Mickelson at 48 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in February 2019. Cink’s most recent victory before Sunday came at the expense of Watson, 59 at the time, in a four-hole playoff at Turnberry.
That was somewhat of an awkward win because many fans were pulling for Watson, relegating Cink to basically a supporting role.
“I always felt like Tom deserved every bit of the accolades he got from his performance that week,” Cink said. “People ask me this all the time: I feel like I won the Open Championship that year. I don’t feel like I took it out of Tom’s hands or I disappointed the world. I don’t mind sharing the spotlight with him for that. In the end I got the Claret Jug.”
This time the spotlight was all Cink’s, sort of.
Reagan convinced his father to let him caddie in California, and it wasn’t just ceremonial, either. Father noted that his son gave him sage advice throughout the week, particularly as the two were walking off the second hole in the final round.
“He said, ‘Dad you know what, your tangibles are really, really good right now your club, your ball, your putting. Let’s just take care of the intangibles today.’ He made a great point,” Cink said. “To do it with Reagan on the bag, his fourth time caddying, was 25 cherries on the top.”
Cink did it the old fashioned way Sunday, with a short game that repeatedly put him in great shape on the greens. He one-putted 10 times, scrambled for pars after driving into the sand twice and had eight birdies to finish at 21-under 267 and stay ahead of Higgs.
“I grew up in Kansas City and know Tom Watson well, so Stewart Cink is enemy No. 1 for Kansas City golf,” Higgs joked. “All throughout today chasing him, I was like, ‘I cannot let Stewart Cink beat another Kansas City golfer.’ But now that it’s over with, I’m thrilled for him. He’s a great person.”
Doc Redman closed with a 62 — matching the lowest round of the tournament — to tie with Chez Reavie (66), Kevin Streelman (67) and Brian Stuard (70) at 18 under.
Stuard, James Hahn and Cameron Percy entered the day tied for the lead. Percy (74) was done when he went double bogey, double bogey, bogey over a three-hole stretch on the front nine. Hahn (72) bogeyed three of the first six holes and couldn’t recover. Stuard was 1 over through eight and chased the leaders the rest of the afternoon.
Cink’s bogey on the par-4, 362-yard 17th was only his second of the week and trimmed his lead to one stroke after Higgs eagled the par-5 16th to get to 19 under.
After hitting his second shot on the par-5 18th into the rough behind the green, Cink’s chip put the ball three feet from the hole to set up final birdie, and then he waited for the final three groups to finish.
“It’s been a while since I really played well for four rounds,” Cink said. “Even here, the second round I was not exactly outstanding, but I really played great over the weekend. I had a lot of good sort of vibes. It just felt like the right place for me to be up near the top of the leaderboard.”
Higgs missed a 10-foot birdie putt on 17, then parred 18, a hole where he made an albatross Friday.
Redman, who began the day eight strokes behind the leaders, closed with six consecutive birdies to take a two-stroke lead. The 22-year-old stayed on top for about two hours until Cink’s final push.
“The last few holes are pretty easy, and I just got hot,” Redman said. “It happens, so it was awesome.”
Baylor School graduate Luke List closed with a 74 to finish tied for 65th at 5 under. He had a 70 in the first round and again in the third to sandwich the 69 that allowed him to make the cut on the number Friday.
Eagle to playoff to birdie to victory
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Mirim Lee chipped in three times Sunday, the last one for an eagle on the final hole that got her into a three-way playoff at the ANA Inspiration, which she won on the first extra hole with a birdie.
It was another wild finish in the LPGA Tour major that moved from the first weekend of April to the 100-degree heat of September, and no one was more surprised than the 29-year-old Lee.
She was never in the lead at any point until she calmly holed a five-foot birdie putt on the 18th to beat Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda, who each had the lead on the back nine.
Lee pitched in from long range for par on the 16th, dropped a shot on the next hole and appeared to be out of it until her chip from behind the 18th green rammed against the pin and dropped for eagle and a 5-under 67.
Korda, the 22-year-old American going for her first major championship, had a two-shot lead with four holes to play and couldn’t hold it. With a one-shot lead going to the par-5 18th, Korda missed the fairway, had to lay up and missed the green to the right, having to scramble for par and a 69 just to match Lee at 15-under 273 for 72 holes.
Henderson lost the lead with a double bogey on the 13th hole that nearly cost her, but she birdied the 16th and was saved by the wall, a blue-covered structure behind the 18th that kept her second shot on the hole from running into the water behind the island green. She got up and down for birdie and a 69.
On the first extra hole, Korda again missed the fairway and had to lay up, and her wedge shot was 25 feet short for a birdie putt that never had a chance. Henderson’s second shot came up just short, and she used a putter for her eagle attempt that rolled out some seven feet past. Her birdie putt missed on the left side.
Lee hit a 5-wood just over the back of the putting surface, chipped to five feet out and made the winner. Even with world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 staying home because of travel concerns due to the coronavirus, Lee made it 10 consecutive years with a South Korean woman winning a major.
From start to finish
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Miguel Angel Jimenez completed a wire-to-wire victory in the Sanford International, the PGA Tour Champions’ first event with fans since returning from a break for the coronavirus pandemic.
Jimenez closed with a 5-under 65 at Minehaha Country Club to beat Steve Flesch by a stroke. The 56-year-old Spanish star won for the second time this season and 10th on the 50-and-older tour.
Tied for the second-round lead with Steve Stricker, Jimenez eagled the par-5 12th for the second time in three days and played the four par-5 holes in 4 under with birdies on Nos. 4 and 16. He parred the final two holes to finish at 14-under 196.
Flesch eagled the 16th in a 63. He had shoulder surgery in May.
Stricker shot a 67 to tie for third with Bernhard Langer (65) at 12 under. Stricker won the inaugural event in 2018, then skipped it last year. The only player at Minehaha set to play this week in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, he bogeyed the par-3 17th and finished with a par.
Jaeger in top 10
WESTCHESTER, Ill. — Curtis Thompson, the older brother of LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson, won the Evans Scholars Invitational for his first Korn Ferry Tour title.
The 27-year-old Thompson closed with a birdie for a 2-under 70 and a one-stroke victory over Jimmy Stanger (66) and Will Zalatoris (64).
Thompson finished at 17-under 271 to earn $108,00 and jump from 52nd to 12th in the points race for PGA Tour cards. He joined brother Nicholas as a Korn Ferry Tour winner.
Chattanooga’s Stephan Jaeger, the former Baylor School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout, closed with a 71 and tied for seventh at 13 under. Jaeger and fellow Baylor alum Harris English are in the field for this week’s U.S. Open.
Strong finish does it
VILAMOURA, Portugal — South African golfer George Coetzee shot a 5-under 66 to win the Portugal Masters by two strokes.
Coetzee birdied two of the last three holes to finish at 16-under 268 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course. The 34-year-old, coming off a victory last week on the Sunshine Tour, has five European Tour titles.
Englishman Laurie Canter was second after a 66.
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