Re­ju­ve­nated Cink works his way into con­tention

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - GOLF -

ST. LOUIS — Ste­wart Cink felt as if he’d trav­eled back in time on Satur­day, play­ing with Tiger Woods and all that en­tails — the mas­sive crowds, the rau­cous cheer­ing and the mind-bend­ing in­ten­sity.

“Kind of re­minded me of be­ing in the vor­tex a lot of years ago,” Cink said with a smile.

It wasn’t just play­ing with a re­ju­ve­nated Woods, though. The 45-year-old Cink played a lot like he did in his younger days, shoot­ing a 4-un­der 66 in his third round at the PGA Cham­pi­onship to climb into con­tention head­ing into the fi­nal round at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club.

“Be­ing in Tiger’s group is al­ways ex­cit­ing,” said Cink, who was tied with Woods four shots off the lead. “Play­ers try to down­play it, and I’ve down­played it over the years my­self, but it’s a pretty in­tense en­vi­ron­ment out there. It’s fun.”

Cink was one of the best play­ers in the world a decade ago, win­ning six times on the PGA Tour over the years. But he hasn’t won since cap­tur­ing his only ma­jor, when he tri­umphed over the seem­ingly age­less Tom Wat­son in a play­off to win the 2009 British Open at Turn­berry.

Cink had only made 13 of 18 cuts this year, though he did tie for sec­ond at the Trav­el­ers. He was also in the top 5 the week be­fore that at the St. Jude, a sign his game was round­ing into shape.

It helps there are plenty of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Bel­lerive and his home course of East Lake Golf Club in At­lanta, rang­ing from the zoysia fair­ways to the soft greens.

“It kind of feels a lit­tle bit like home to me, and I’m very fa­mil­iar with it, the way it’s go­ing to re­act,” Cink said. “It just feels like the club is jump­ing out of the bag, what­ever one that is on the right hole. It’s been a com­fort­able week for me. I haven’t driven it per­fectly or any­thing, but de­ci­sive — de­ci­sion-mak­ing has been a good part of my game this week.”

WHAT A WALL-ACE

Matt Wal­lace gave the mas­sive crowds await­ing Tiger Woods in the group be­hind him a rea­son to warm up their throats when he aced the par-3 16th hole with a 5-iron.

The 28-year-old English­man, who has three Euro­pean Tour vic­to­ries on his re­sume, plucked his ball from the hole with a big smile. Then he re­warded those fans by chuck­ing it into the crowd.

“Peo­ple will be like, `Oh, that’s a stupid move,“’ he said, “but I threw it in and then I met the guy af­ter that hole and I signed it for him and he said, `Are you sure you don’t want it back?’ And I said, `You keep that, mate.’ I keep the balls that I win with and they’re all on the man­tel piece, so that one will just live in my me­mory for be­ing pretty cool out there.”

The ace helped Wal­lace to a third-round 66. He’s 5 un­der for the cham­pi­onship.

PICS FOR POSTERITY

Bran­don Stone was play­ing the same par-3 16th an hour later when he nearly holed out for an ace of his own. His ball hit the cup on the fly, ric­o­chet­ing off the bot­tom of the flag­stick back out.

Stone cov­ered his mouth in dis­be­lief, ask­ing whether it bounced out of the hole.

The im­pact from the young South African’s shot left the hole dam­aged, and play­ing part­ner Thomas Pi­eters wanted to make sure he re­mem­bered it. So he pulled out his cell­phone and snapped a pic.

Stone wound up miss­ing the putt. He still shot 69 and was 7 un­der for the tour­na­ment.

JEEZ, BERGER

Daniel Berger would’ve been for­given for packing the clubs af­ter his first nine Thurs­day. He had started his PGA Cham­pi­onship with two bo­geys and a dou­ble, leav­ing him 6 over.

The 25-year-old for­mer Florida State star has only made one bo­gey since.

Berger ral­lied to shoot 73 that open­ing day, then fired a rain-in­ter­rupted, sec­on­dround 66 to make the cut. He added a bo­gey-free 67 on Satur­day to reach 5 un­der for the cham­pi­onship.

“I just stopped try­ing at one point. It’s funny how things work,” said Berger, who’s also been deal­ing with a wrist in­jury this week. “I just kind of free­wheeled it.”

MERAVIGLIOSO, FRANCESCO!

Francesco Moli­nari’s chances of be­com­ing the first back-to-back win­ner of the PGA Cham­pi­onship since Tiger Woods are still alive af­ter a 2-un­der 68 left him five shots off the lead.

Moli­nari had got­ten to 8 un­der for the cham­pi­onship af­ter a birdie at the par-4 10th, but he dropped a shot at the 12th and then made all pars to hit the club­house at 7 un­der.

“I’m hav­ing a great week. Crowds are in­cred­i­ble,” Moli­nari said. “We were say­ing yes­ter­day as big as the Ry­der Cup, prob­a­bly. A lot, a lot of peo­ple out there. So it’s great to see. I’m get­ting a lot of sup­port, which is nice. Very nice week so far.”

Char­lie Riedel / As­so­ci­ated Press

Ste­wart Cink tees off on the 17th hole dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship on Satur­day.

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