From July of 2009 until September of 2020, Stewart Cink was stuck on six career PGA Tour victories – a span of 11 years and two months. But following career win No. 7 last fall in Napa, Cink needed just seven months to grab No. 8.
The 47-year-old Georgia Tech product and 1997 Tour Rookie of the Year joined U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau as the only players on Tour to win twice this season, steadily holding onto a large 54-hole lead to win the RBC Heritage by four strokes over Harold Varner III and Emiliano Grillo.
The physically-imposing veteran, who dashed the hopes of sports fans worldwide when he took down 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff at the 2009 Open Championship, won the RBC Heritage for the third time in his career.
Those wins, too, were far apart from his most recent one. He took the 2000 edition by two strokes over Tom Lehman, repeating as champion in 2004 in a five-hole sudden-death playoff over Ted Purdy.
The win was not quite wire-to-wire, but it sure felt like it. An opening 8-under 63 was one shot more than what was needed by Cameron Smith.
However, when Smith followed with an even-par 71 in the second round, Cink matched his Thursday 63 to take a commanding five-stroke lead that he would never come close to relinquishing. His 16-under score through two rounds broke the tournament’s 36-hole record by three strokes. A 2-under 69 in the third round was less eye-popping, but the field did not get any closer to him, as he came into the final round up five on recent PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, a man 23 years Cink’s junior.
Morikawa birdied the first hole, but he immediately gave that stroke away with a bogey on the par-5 second hole, and never threatened again.
Cink performed a clinic on how to play with a big lead, carding one birdie and eight pars on his front-nine to make the turn four clear of Grillo. His back-nine was similarly uneventful, in a good way, with a bogey on 12, a birdie on 17, and pars on the rest. He commented after his round how great it was getting to walk the 18th, with his son Reagan on the bag, with a big lead, knowing the victory was secure.
Cink shot a 1-under 70 on Sunday.
An event dating back to 1969, Cink’s third victory tied him with Hale Irwin for the second-most in tournament history, two behind Davis Love III.
Interestingly enough, Irwin actually went longer between his second and third wins, taking the 1994 edition 21 years after winning his second. That third win was the last of Irwin’s 20-win Hall of Fame career.
Morikawa shot a disappointing 1-over 72 to drop into a share of seventh. No players other than Varner III and Grillo finished within five strokes of Cink.
2021 RBC Heritage
Top-5 Leaders: Final Round
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 4)
1. Stewart Cink -19 (-1)
2. Harold Varner -15 (-5)
2. Emiliano Grillo -15 (-3)
4. Maverick McNealy -13 (-4)
4. Mat Fitzpatrick -13 (-3)
How Stewart Cink Won The RBC Heritage
Cink went into an early scoring frenzy with 13 birdies and two eagles, to just one bogey over the first two rounds. With the big lead, he played composed, mistake-free golf, with just one bogey a piece in rounds 3 and 4. Surprisingly, his three bogeys only tied for sixth for the week, and his 18 birdies ranked 17th in the field.
Cink gained 13.7 strokes for the week tee-to-green, finishing first in that stat, in addition to greens in regulation and was second in strokes gained: approach-the-green. Cink is the Tour leader in greens in regulation, but unlike most who rank highly on Tour in GIR, he still has high-end length, ranking 26th on Tour in driving distance.
He didn’t even finish in the top 100 for the week in driving accuracy, but only lost strokes to the green off the tee in one round, and that was only -0.214 in a round where he was 8-under.
What Winning the Heritage (Again) Means For Cink
As great as Cink played early in the year, with the win at the Safeway Open, he struggled in February, following a T58 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with three consecutive missed cuts.
However, he finished T19 at the Honda Classic, and then was T12 at The Masters last week, his best showing at Augusta since a T3 in 2008. He is heading back in the right direction with the PGA Championship coming up next month, an event he has only qualified for once in the last six years.
Cink also qualified for this year’s U.S. Open, which he has also qualified for just once in the past six years.
Cink jumped to third in the FedExCup Standings, more or less clinching his spot for the Tour Championship in September. He also becomes an interesting potential Ryder Cup pick, if he is able to keep this form up. He has played on five Ryder Cup teams, but none since 2010.
A week in his home state of South Carolina may have been exactly what world No. 1 Dustin Johnson needed to get out of his surprising funk.
One week after missing the cut in his 2020 title defense of The Masters, Johnson shot a 5-under 66 on Sunday to jump 23 spots from T36 to T13. Had he made up one more stroke, it would have been his first top 10 since February’s Genesis Invitational. His 20 birdies for the week was second in the field, and he led in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
DJ was one of six players to shoot 66 in the final round, with just one player scoring better: 41-year-old Charles Howell III, who birdied eight holes, just one fewer than he had through the first three rounds combined, on his way to a 6-under 65. He moved a field-high 29 spots up the final leaderboard, from T47 to T18.
In four starts after finishing solo-second in February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, 25-year-old former Stanford star Maverick McNealy had three missed cuts and a T49, shooting a combined 24-over-par. He may be heading back in the right direction though, as 4-under 67 on Sunday moved him from 10th to T4.
McNealy birdied four of his first five holes in the final round, and made the turn at 5-under.
Those unfamiliar with 24-year-old American Will Zalatoris before last week’s Masters, sure knew who he was after. Not even an official PGA Tour member (yet), Zalatoris finished solo-second at the season’s first major, despite it being his first attempt at Augusta.
Understandably, Zalatoris admitted to being “a little fried” early in the week at Harbour Town, but kept his position in the field, and even played well, opening with rounds of 68-67 to reach 7-under through 36 holes.
However, he appeared to hit the wall over the weekend, and after a Saturday even-par 71, he shot a 2-over 73 on Sunday, which dropped him 21 spots from T21 to T42. Zalatoris’ roller-coast round 4 back-nine comprised four bogeys, one double bogey, two birdies, and an eagle.
Another 24-year-old non-member showing recent flashes of elite game is Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, who knocked off Dustin Johnson and posted a top 10 at the WGC-Match Play, and finished T12 at last week’s Masters.
As much potential as he appears to have, though, he did not have his best at Harbour Town on Sunday. Four bogeys and three double-bogeys doomed MacIntyre to a field-worst 7-over 78, causing him to drop 32 spots from T27 to T59.
Given the immense talent he has shown at just 23 years of age, and the fact that he was T2 at The Masters in November, it was shocking to see Sungjae Im leave Augusta a week ago after two rounds, shooting 77-80 to miss the cut by ten strokes.
The man who never seems to take a week off, Im brushed off that failure with a strong showing through three rounds at Harbour Town, sitting at a tie for fourth going into the final round. However, any hopes he had of a higher finish were dashed with a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 second hole. He did well just to only finish the day at 1-over 72, but it still dropped him nine spots, into a share of 13th place.
“I felt like I had a lot of pressure all day. When you have a big lead, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to not play bad and not lose it.
“In fact, one guy when I was walking in from the car today going into the locker room, was standing by the fence and saying ‘Don’t choke today!”
“That’s not exactly helpful. I’m glad he was entertained by that, but it wasn’t helpful to me.”
– Stewart Cink, RBC Heritage Champion