Cink Puts Past Behind Him

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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