If you’ve been waiting for 47-year-old Stewart Cink to fade, you’re running out of time. The two-time champion Cink is still sitting at the top of the leaderboard with a 54-hole tournament record 18-under-par score after three rounds at the 2021 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, and though his scorching pace finally cooled off a bit during Saturday’s round, he is still five shots clear of his closest competitor, reigning PGA champion Collin Morikawa.
Cink didn’t match his back-to-back 63s on Thursday and Friday, but he remained remarkably consistent and bounced back from his only bogey of the day at the par-4 third hole with consecutive birdies before adding another at the par-3 14th. He made an incredible save at No. 12, crafting a creative shot to set up an up-and-down for par after his errant tee shot came to rest against a large stick in the hardpan waste bunker.
The steady tee-to-green approach helped Cink maintain a healthy cushion going into the final round, a position he has found himself in plenty of times before with seven PGA Tour victories including the 2009 Open Championship, and much more recently the Safeway Open in September.
“I’ve certainly been nervous and thrown up on myself and I’ve also played great in that situation,” Cink said. “You know, I think it’s a lot better to embrace it and enjoy it and feel the tingle as opposed to trying to act like it’s not there.”
Morikawa, who was 3 years old when the salty dog Cink first won at Harbour Town Golf Links in 2000 — and just 7 when Cink last slipped into a tartan jacket in 2004 — fired a scorching 4-under 31 on the back nine Saturday to put a little heat on the leader. In fact, Morikawa was the only golfer to make any serious charge late in the day. Corey Conners shot a pedestrian 1-over-par 72 while playing alongside Cink in the final group, while the streaky Aussie Cameron Smith carded a disappointing 3-over par 74, dropping him to 27th place.
Early pairings seemed to have more success thanks to the docile morning winds and fresh, smooth-rolling greens. Defending champion Webb Simpson rolled out early and signed a bogey-free scorecard of 7-under 64, catapulting the North Carolinian into a tie for sixth at 10-under.
South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout went out in a scorching 6-under 30 on the front-nine, causing gallery goers to ask strangers in plaid the question, “How do you pronounce Bezooodawhat?” He carded a double-bogey on the par-3 14th hole, but still managed a masterful 6-under 65, good enough for the second-best score of the day behind Simpson. Bezuidenhout is looking for his first PGA Tour victory and will start nine back of the leader.
After a perfect, sunny 70-degree Saturday, the forecast for Sunday’s final round calls for showers rolling in overnight but a mix of sun and clouds during the late pairings.
We’ll see if the showers can wash Morikawa’s putting woes away by Sunday’s afternoon tee time or if anyone can put up an early low number and put pressure on the resurgent Cink.
“I’ve got to put some pressure on him at the beginning,” Morikawa said. “If I go out and shoot even par like I did on the front nine today, it’s not going to get the job done no matter how many birdies I make on the back.”
The RBC Heritage champion has come-from-behind seven out of the last eight years. Buckle up, this one is not over yet.
“That’s just the way it’s been here for years, and if you’re near the lead in this tournament on Saturday and Sunday, you’ve got to be prepared for that,” Cink said. “I did it myself, came from 10 back, I think, or nine back one year. I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like to be on the early wave. But tomorrow I’m going to be late, so I’ve got to prepare and just keep being really solid.”
By Brian Rietveld