In 2009, Brian Gay set a seemingly unbeatable RBC Heritage record of 20-under par. Just last year, Webb Simpson did two better, albeit in summer conditions. But one year later, a hero from Heritage lore might just break the mark again.
Stewart Cink, the 2000 and 2004 Heritage champion, doubled down on his outstanding first round Friday, shooting his second straight 63 to shatter the tournament’s 36-hole record with an unthinkable mark of 16-under par and take a five shot lead over Canada’s Corey Conners.
After just two days, the 47-year-old legend is only six shots away from Simpson’s 22-under performance last June.
“Good execution has led to some good scores,” Cink said. “It’s just really solid planning, discipline, combined with good execution. I’ve had a lot of really good looks at birdies, and I’ve felt very comfortable on the greens.”
The Georgia native got his day started with a bang, making eagle on the par-5 second after drilling his second shot just nine feet from the cup. With the help of his 24-year-old son and caddie Reagan, Cink breezed through the remainder of the front nine with two more birdies to cement his lead over Conners.
The veteran continued his strong play to start the inward half, nailing an approach shot on the 11th to get to 13-under par. He faced adversity at the par-4 12th after a wayward tee shot but managed an up-and-down thanks to a beautiful chip to set up an easy par tap-in. Cink took the momentum and ran with it, making three more birdies including a pair of dazzling putts to finish off his second straight round of 63.
With the incredible 16-under start, the two-time tartan champ set the event’s new 36-hole record, besting the previous mark of -13 shared by Phil Mickelson and the great Jack Nicklaus. At age 47, Cink is the oldest to ever hold a lead after two rounds at Harbour Town.
“There’s a lot of work still to come,” he said. “I didn’t really have any kind of anticipation about shooting a certain number or anything. I just wanted to come out here and continue being disciplined and staying in the moment, in the present, and just working our plan. We’ve got a really good plan going between Reagan and myself, and we wanted to come out here and just continue.”
But there’s a reason why only two Friday leaders have ever held on through the weekend. With an ever-changing course along with a strong cast of competitors in striking distance, even a five-shot advantage doesn’t seem that large.
It looked as though Conners’ own bid was enough to be the top total at the end of the day, but the Canadian’s phenomenal 64 was only good for second place at 11-under par. Aside from a double-bogey hiccup on the par-3 14th, the Canadian was lights-out, racking up nine birdies including six on the front nine.
“I hit my irons really well and was able to roll in some putts,” Conners said. “That was nice to get a few extra on the second nine I played today on the front side. Feel good about the game and really happy about the day.”
He may not have been in the big spotlight this afternoon, but Emiliano Grillo quietly has put together an astounding start, becoming the only player to complete his first 36 holes bogey-free while taking third place at 10-under par. The Argentinian standout started off red-hot, making birdies on five of his first seven holes before adding two more on the always-challenging 17th and 18th. Conners and Grillo are vying to become the sixth international RBC Heritage champion since 2012.
To do so, they may have to endure more difficult scoring conditions on the weekend with rain in the forecast.
“I don’t think we’re going to find it as easy as it was today,” Grillo said. “We’re professionals; we’re used to tough conditions, and when we get into easy conditions like today, we’re going to take advantage of it. I just left a bunch of putts on the back nine short of the hole, and it could have been a really, really low one today. But I’m happy.”
First-round leader Cameron Smith shares a tie for fourth place alongside young superstar Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, and Billy Horschel, who made a highlight-reel holeout on 17 to save par before making birdie on the last to enter the weekend at -9.
Wesley Bryan, South Carolina’s only RBC Heritage champion, is right behind at -8, and the group one stroke behind can’t be counted out, with exciting players like Abraham Ancer, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Will Zalatoris who can get hot at a moment’s notice.
A total of 65 golfers earned the right to stay for the weekend, which was trimmed at the very end after a late birdie by Luke List jumped the cut line to 2-under par. It was an unfortunate ending for Jim Furyk, Tommy Fleetwood, and a handful of others who saw their Heritage abruptly come to an end.
Friday also was the finale of Bryson Nimmer’s Harbour Town debut, but the Bluffton native finished on an excellent note by carding a 3-under 68 in the second round. Nimmer had an unforgettable experience fulfilling a long-awaited dream, and will look to take the momentum of a strong finish over to a Korn Ferry Tour event next month before his second home PGA Tour event of the season in the Palmetto Championship at Congaree Golf Club in June.
By Wes Kerr