In recent years, the PGA Tour has become increasingly youth-dominated, which makes it all the more impressive that 47-year-old Stewart Cink won the Safeway Open, the first event of the 2020-21 wrap-around Tour season.
With a final-round 7-under 65, the second-best score in the Sunday field, Cink triumphed at Silverado Country Club, the Napa, California-based host venue by two strokes over Harry Higgs. It was the seventh win of Cink’s career, snapping an 11-year drought dating back to the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry in Scotland, where he became a villain by demolishing 59-year-old fan favorite Tom Watson in a four-hole playoff.
The victory was extra special for Cink, as his 23-year-old son, Reagan, was working as his caddie. Cink absolutely raved about his son in his post-round interview. His wife, Lisa, who battled stage IV breast cancer in 2016, was on hand as well. He mentioned that his other son, Connor, was not there on Sunday because it was his birthday.
Coming off a mediocre 2020 season where he placed better than T28 just twice in 14 starts and finished 144th in the FedExCup Standings, Cink surged into the leadership mix when he shot a Saturday 65, getting him to seventh place through 54 holes, just two strokes back of the trio of Brian Stuard, James Hahn, and Cameron Percy.
Despite how long it had been since he last won, Cink looked extremely comfortable in contention, first tying Doc Redman for the lead at the turn after playing the first nine holes in bogey-free 4-under. A birdie on No. 11 gave him a lead he would not relinquish. He then birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to cushion his lead before the only blemish on his card – a bogey on the par-4 17th. He immediately bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 18th, the second par 5 in the closing three holes at Silverado, clinching the victory with a short birdie putt.
Cink came into the week at No. 319 in the world rankings, and only had conditional status on Tour. He is now exempt until just before he turns 50, when he will have Champions Tour eligibility. Despite the win, he did not qualify for next week’s U.S. Open, a tournament where he began his career with five results of 16th or better in his first six attempts, including a tertiary finish in 2001.
Final Top-10 Finishers
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Stewart Cink -21 (-7)
2. Harry Higgs -19 (-4)
3. Doc Redman -18 (-10)
3. Chez Reavie -18 (-6)
3. Kevin Streelman -18 (-5)
3. Brian Stuard -18 (-2)
7. Sam Burns -17 (-2)
7. Kristoffer Ventura -17 (-2)
9. J.J. Spaun -16 (-4)
9. Pat Perez -16 (-3)
9. Akshay Bhatia -16 (-4)
9. Russell Knox -16 (-2)
9. James Hahn -16 (E)
14. Bud Cauley -15
23. Charl Schwartzel -14
29. Harold Varner III -13
29. Branden Grace -13
29. Jason Dufner -13
29. Emiliano Grillo -13
44. Si Woo Kim -10
44. Phil Mickelson -10
46. Jim Furyk -9
46. J.B. Holmes -9
56. Kevin Chappell -7
56. Charley Hoffman -7
MC Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Rafael Cabrera Bello
How Stewart Cink Won The Safeway Open
Stewart Cink began the week at the Safeway with rounds of 67 and 70. A man who is typically around league average in distance, he hit just three of 14 fairways on Thursday and seven on Friday, but was much better off the tees over the weekend, hitting 10 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday.
In addition, he led the field for the week in greens in regulation at 84.72%. Cink had just two bogeys the entire week, which ranked second in the field. He was also second in scrambling and strokes gained: tee-to-green, gaining 5.3 strokes on the field in the latter statistic on Sunday.
Cink was first in strokes gained: total, and was fifth in birdies, with 15 of his 23 coming in his 65-65 weekend. His tee-to-green prowess was a significant improvement on his 2020 season, where he finished 71st in greens in regulation and 119th in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
What It Means For Cink
Holding just conditional status on Tour, Stewart Cink’s win provides him security on the PGA Tour, as he is now exempt for the rest of this season and the following two. It gives him a nice plan as he approaches his 50s.
The puts Cink atop the year’s first FedExCup standings, basically making him a lock for the playoffs, which he missed the past two seasons. His $1.2 million payday is more money than he made in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined ($858,628 in 30 starts).
The Safeway Open field was not strong by any means, but simply knowing that he CAN win again, undoubtedly gives him tremendous confidence going forward. He showed very little in the way of nerves while holding the lead down the stretch.
The only man to better Cink’s 7-under 65 did it by three strokes. Doc Redman looked like he was playing a different game than everyone else with a 10-under 62, tying Harry Higgs’ Friday for the low round of the week.
The 22-year-old Clemson product birdied each of his final six holes to reach 18-under for the week, which held the clubhouse lead until Cink passed him. Redman rocketed 40 spots up the final leaderboard, moving from T43 to T3, his second third-place finish in his last three starts.
His ten Sunday birdies was just one fewer than he had over the first three rounds combined.
It was a tale of two nines for two-time Tour winner Chez Reavie. On the front, he had eight pars and a bogey. On the back, he had seven birdies to two pars, with one of those pars coming on the par-5 16th.
The sizzling close meant a 6-under 66, which jumped him 15 spots up the final leaderboard from T18 to T3. Reavie had just two top-10s in 22 starts during the 2020 season, although he did finish T6 in last month’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Also shooting a Sunday 66 was former PLAYERS Champion Si Woo Kim, who had an extremely up-and-down week, following an 8-under 65 on Friday with a 5-over 77 on Saturday, the latter of which included a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 18th. Kim moved 23 spots up the final leaderboard from 67th to T44.
Cameron Percy, a 46-year-old Aussie who finished 143rd in last year’s FedExCup standings has never had a PGA Tour season with more than $620,262 in earnings, but he was on pace to shatter that when he held the 54-hole co-lead.
Unfortunately, by the sixth hole he had dropped from first to 38th, after carding double bogeys on 4 and 5, followed by a bogey on 6. He rebounded after that to play his final 12 holes in 3-under, but with a 2-over 74, his worst round of the week by six strokes, Percy finished a disappointing T22.
Percy ranked 60th in the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee and strokes gained: around-the-green, and was 61st in scrambling.
James Hahn, a two-time winner on Tour, did not fare much better with the 54-hole co-lead. He dropped quickly with bogeys on his first two holes, and an even-par 72 meant a T9 result.
The 38-year-old should be encouraged, however, as it was his first top 10 since a runner-up finish at the 2018 Sony Open. He made less than $500,000 over the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined.
Like Cink, Emiliano Grillo was just two strokes off the final round lead after a Saturday 65, but unlike Cink, Grillo could not get anything going in the final round. The 27-year-old from Argentina won this event in 2015, in just his eighth career Tour start, and first start as a Tour member.
Grillo was unable to find any of that magic on Sunday, carding just two birdies and shooting a 1-over 73 that dropped him 22 spots from T7 to T29.
Phil’s Roller Coaster Sunday
Despite recently turning 50 years old, Phil Mickelson was the betting favorite to win at Silverado this week, largely a product of his recent win in his Champions Tour debut.
Mickelson, who will be heavily watched at this week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the site of the greatest of his U.S. Open heartbreaks, had as much of an up-and-down final round as one can have. He was 2-under through six holes, but finished his front nine bogey-double-bogey.
Showing resilience, Mickelson then played the back-nine in bogey-free 4-under. All told, he ended up shooting a 2-under 70 and finishing T44.
There were definitely positives in Mickelson’s week, but what was very troubling was that he hit just 12 fairways… for the entire week. He hit just one on Saturday and two on Sunday, finishing last in the field in driving accuracy.
“When you get to 47, like I am, you don’t really know if you’re going to be able to close the door on another one. I have been, at times, in position to get it done and haven’t, and this was just a really special week where I had a lot of good things going with my golf, and I made some really good changes last week with Ping”.
– Stewart Cink, Safeway Open Champion