Friday's golf: Stewart Cink, 47, sets midway record at RBC Heritage

Associated Press
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Hilton Head Island, S.C. — Two-time champion Stewart Cink moved into position for a third RBC Heritage title, shooting a second straight 63 to set the 36-hole scoring mark at Harbour Town.

Cink, 47, appears unstoppable after two amazing days. He sits at 16-under 126, five shots ahead of Corey Conners. The previous best midway score was 129, set by Jack Nicklaus en route to victory in 1975 and matched by Phil Mickelson, who wound up third in 2002.

Stewart Cink hits out of the bunker on the 15th hole during the second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday.

Conners shot 64 and was 11 under. Emiliano Grillo (64) was another shot behind.

Fourth-ranked Collin Morikawa, preparing to defend his PGA Championship title next month, was tied for fourth at 9-under with Sungjae Im (65), Billy Horschel (67) and Cameron Smith, who followed his opening-round 62 with a 71.

Cink was hardly overwhelmed by the scores he posted, chalking them up to smart preparation and strong execution alongside his 24-year-old son, Reagan, who’s caddying for him.

“It doesn’t feel all that special, to be honest with you,” Cink said. “We just kind of worked our game plan.”

It was certainly unexpected. Cink hasn’t finished in the top 20 at Harbour Town in a decade, hadn’t led halfway since the Travelers Championship in 2008 and is closer to the PGA Tour Champions than his prime.

Yet Cink has had a renaissance on golf’s biggest stage this season. He won for the first time in 11 years at the Safeway Open in September and has added five top-20 finishes including a tie for 12th last week at the Masters.

Cink was down three shots to Conners when he teed off Friday.

No matter. Cink quickly erased the deficit with an eagle on the par-5 second and a birdie on No. 3. Cink moved in front with a birdie on the sixth and steadily built his margin the rest of the way, adding birdies on the 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th holes.

The veteran is two solid rounds away from adding a third plaid jacket to the two he earned in 2000 and 2004. In both of those wins, Cink came from behind on Sunday. This time he’ll need to just maintain his strong overall play.

Since Reagan became his caddie, father and son have been collaborating on strategy before tournaments.

“We call it bludgeoning and we’re just bludgeoning that plan almost to death,” the elder Cink said with a grin. “When you manage yourself around a course like that and execute, the golf courses yield.”

Conners entered the week with Masters momentum, having tied for eighth at Augusta National for his second top-10 finish there in five months. He birdied seven of his final 13 holes.

“Giving myself lots of chances and was really nice to see some go in,” Conners said. “Hopefully, can keep that up going into the weekend.”

Morikawa had chances, too, He had seven birdie opportunities from 20 feet or less on his final nine holes, but the only one that dropped was an 18-footer on No. 6.

Morikawa said changing wind conditions made it difficult to judge green speeds.

“It was tough not seeing a few birdies in,” he said. “But we’ll work on a few things and be fine for the weekend.”

Smith, who was bogey-free in his opening 62, dropped three shots in a five-hole stretch on Friday.

“I think the golfing gods got a few back on me today,” the Australian said.

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson used a back-nine surge to avoid his second straight missed cut and after leaving the Masters early, returning only to slip the green jacket on new champ Hideki Matsuyama. Consecutive bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes at Harbour Town dropped him to 1-under, but four birdies coming in gave him a 67 and left him 11 shots behind Cink.

Those going home included Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na, all among the top 30 in the FedEx Cup point standings this season.

LPGA

Lydia Ko again put herself in position for her first win in three years, shooting a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Lotte Championship.

Nelly Korda, who went back and forth with Ko for the lead throughout the third round, finished with a 63 and was one shot back. Ko pushed ahead one last time by rolling in the last of her seven birdies on the par-4 18th.

Ko is 21 under through three rounds at Kapolei Golf Club, which has offered little resistance this week even in windy conditions. She has played her last four rounds in 31 under, having fired a 62 last Sunday at the ANA Inspiration for her second runner-up finish of the year.

Yuka Saso, a 19-year-old from the Philippines playing on a sponsor’s exemption, followed her back-to-back 64s with a 71 and was four shots back. She began the day with a two-shot lead over Ko but bogeyed the first hole while Ko made birdie. Saso made three more bogeys on the front nine before rallying to finish under par for the day.

The average score Friday, with Kapolei less breezy and a few tees moved up, was 68.3. Among the big movers were Leona Maguire, who was five shots back after a 65, and Amy Yang, who shot 64 and was another shot behind.

Lexi Thompson (67) was part of a group at 14 under. She hit pitching wedge to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 seventh hole.

Champions

Fred Couples put in more work than usual to get ready for the Masters, only to have his worst performance in 36 appearances. Back on the PGA Tour Champions, he was more at ease and close to flawless.

Couples didn’t miss a fairway, setting up wedges or short irons into most of the holes, and he had a 9-under 63 to build a two-shot lead after the opening round of the Chubb Classic in Naples, Fla.

Bernhard Langer, one of players at Augusta National last week, shot a 65. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker was among those another shot behind.

Couples matched his lowest round of the season with a 63, which featured five straight birdies to close out the front nine on the Black course at Tiburon Golf Club.

Jose Maria Olazabal, the two-time Masters champion and the only player at the Chubb Classic to make the cut at Augusta National this year, opened with a 73.

Europe

Alejandro Canizares overcame a slow start to card a 2-under 70 and keep his one-stroke lead after the second round of the Austrian Open in Atzenbrugg, Austria.

The Spaniard is 7 under overall, while former top-ranked Martin Kaymer (70) and John Catlin (70) share second place.

Both Canizares and Kaymer are after their first win in seven years. Kaymer won the U.S. Open in 2014, his second major triumph. Catlin won twice on the European Tour last year.

Hampered by cold conditions, Canizares dropped three shots in his opening two holes when he bogeyed the par-four 10th and had a double on the 11th.

Three straight birdies from the 14th helped him to recover, and Canizares had four more birdies in the front nine to maintain his slim lead.

The Austrian Open is the first European Tour event this year on European soil.

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