Cink Puts Past Behind Him

By Golf Channel NewsroomApril 18, 2003, 4:00 pm
Stewart Cink was scared. He dreaded Thursdays. He was playing with fear.
 
But notice that is all worded in the past tense.
 
Cink hasnt won on the PGA Tour since he triumphed at Harbour Town Golf Links in 2000. However, hes no longer the player he became the last two years, and hes again in position to triumph on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
 
Cink shot 6-under 65 Friday to take the midway lead in The MCI Heritage Classic. He leads Hal Sutton (66), who is winless over the last two years, by one, at 10-under-par 132.
 
Cink, likewise, is playing well this week while mired in an extended slump. His last tour victory came in this event in 2000.
 
'It's been three years now, but I still feel really good on these greens and off the tees -- everything looks really good to my eyes,' Cink said. 'There's a lot of confidence just from those things.'
 
Friday, he started out with six birdies and one bogey for a front-nine 31. He dropped a shot at the par-3 14th, but birdied 17 and 18 for sole possession of the lead.
 
1997 champion Nick Price (66) is tied with Chad Campbell (67) for third place at 8-under. 'I think we're in for an exciting weekend,' said Price. 'A lot of guys near the top of the leaderboard.'
 
Eighteen players are within five shots of Cink's lead, but it's the quality not the quantity of those in contention that should make for an exciting final two rounds.
 
Four-time champion Davis Love III (69) shares fourth place, at 7-under, with Mark Calcavecchia (66), Geoff Ogilvy (67) and Ernie Els (67).
 
Els is trying to regain the form that led to four worldwide wins earlier in the year. Since injuring his wrist when punching a heavy bag, he has tied for 38th at Bay Hill and tied for sixth at the Masters, where he opened in 79.
 
Im physically 100 percent. Im just trying to get my game where it was two months ago, said Els.
 
Cink has progressively declined since his win here. He fell from 10th on the money list in 2000 to 26th in 2001; he was 73rd a year ago -- and it was a 'miracle' he finished that high.
 
I went through a stretch where I was just playing with a lot of fear and very tentative, he said. 'Part of that probably had to do with making my first Ryder Cup team and having the delay for a whole year.'
 
He also had to deal with the aftermath of the 2001 U.S. Open, where he missed a two-foot putt on the 72nd hole that, as it turned out, would have gotten him into a playoff.
 
'There's a lot of stuff that I was dealing with, but instead of just trying to push all that away, I really looked at it and examined myself and I learned a lot about myself over the last six or seven months and it's helped me play quite a bit better,' he said.
 
'I would come to golf tournaments and I would actually dread Thursdays. Dread Thursdays, because I had to go out there and go through all this (fear and anxiety),' he said. 'Now, I look forward to Thursdays...it's just the night and day difference.'
 
Cink is also no longer one of the younger tour members. At 29, he's a veteran of seven years. He said that maturity has helped him immensely.
 
Its been something that Ive really been proud of, looking straight in the eye and overcoming some of the problems I was having, he said.
 
He has three top-6 finishes over his last six starts, including a tie for second at Bay Hill. His turnaround can be pinpointed in this years Chrysler Classic of Tucson. He was in good standing ' though not in contention to win ' through three rounds and shot a Sunday 66 to earn a solid tie for sixth.
 
Its the kind of situation where a year ago he would have felt very fragile and vulnerable to make mistakes.
 
I played a great round ' never really got nervous, he said. I realize now that 73 or 74 is not the end of my world. My wife is not going to lock me out of the house.
 
And neither is Suttons. Hal and his wife, Ashley, are celebrating their nine-year wedding anniversary this week. This is his first trip to Harbour Town in five years. He has played this event 12 times and has five top-10 finishes.
 
Top-10s are rare these days for the soon-to-be 45-year-old; his last came two years ago when he won the Shell Houston Open ' which will take place next week.
 
I havent hit my irons good in two years and thats the reason why I havent played well, he said. You can look at my stats.
 
A tale of the tape shows that Sutton has dropped from ninth in greens hit in regulation in 2001 to 94th in 2002. This year he is currently 96th in that category.
 
But things have improved this week -- and on Harbour Town's tiny landing surfaces, nonetheless. He hit 74 percent of his greens in regulation Thursday, and an astounding 94 percent Friday.
 
Sutton gives much of the credit to his good friend Price, who gave him a tip Tuesday. He said Price had noticed a problem for the last 'four or five months' but was reluctant to give advice.
 
He even prefaced it by saying, If you think Im going to mess you up, you can run me off,'' Sutton said. 'I thought, How can you mess me up?
 
Sutton tried to explain the tip as one where he gets the proper cock in his left wrist at the top of the swing. All Im trying to do is keep my left shoulder in the shot longer, he explained, saying that professional instructors were unable to detect the flaw that Price pointed out.
 
It has certainly worked thus far. He has made 12 birdies and three bogeys through two rounds.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from The MCI Heritage Classic
  • Full coverage of The MCI Heritage Classic
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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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    Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

    The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

    Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

    McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

    Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

    “When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

    And that was an offseason event.

    “They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

    As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

    So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

    “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



    Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

    Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

    His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

    It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

    There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

    There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

    While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

    There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



    Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

    Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

    He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

    Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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    CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

    The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

    Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


    Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

    Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

    Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


    Notables in the field

    Phil Mickelson

    * This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

    * For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

    * He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

    * This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


    Jon Rahm

    * Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

    * In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

    * Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


    Adam Hadwin

    * Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

    * In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


    Brian Harman

    * Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

    * Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

    * Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


    Brandt Snedeker

    * Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

    * This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

    * Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


    Patrick Reed

    * Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

    * This is his first start of 2018.

    * Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

    (Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)