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Joe Durant makes most of late Stewart Cink stumble at Cologuard Classic

5 Min Read



    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    An uncharacteristic sloppy finish at the Cologuard Classic by the usually steady Stewart Cink awoke a host of contenders behind him on Sunday, reigniting a frenzied race for the famed Conquistador helmet that has been awarded to the winner in Tucson since 1968.

    With a door newly opened after Cink made a staggering triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 13th – where Cink deposited a wedge approach from the fairway into the desert – Joe Durant was the man to step through, shooting 4-under 67 to finish at 13-under 200, collecting his first PGA TOUR Champions title since 2021.

    Cink, at 50, a relative newcomer to the PGA TOUR Champions, recently became a grandparent for the first time, but he will have to wait a bit longer to be a first-time winner among the 50-and-over set. His undoing began on the 13th; he hit his tee shot in the fairway but missed the green to the right with a wedge on his approach. Making triple, a tailspin to the finish started there. Even with a closing birdie, Cink played his final nine holes in 4-over 39 en route to a final-round 73.

    Cink went from leading at the turn on Sunday to falling to T7, at one point incurring four penalty strokes in four holes on the back nine. At the same time, Durant was rock-solid. He rolled in a huge eagle putt at the 11th hole, then closed with seven pars.

    Durant was playing alongside Cink and Retief Goosen in the final grouping and knew exactly where he stood down the stretch. Kevin Sutherland, a past Cologuard champion who was making his first start since September, closed within a shot after birdies at 16 and 17, but missed the green at the par-4 18th and made a bogey, allowing Durant to play the last with a two-shot cushion. He two-putted for par with a great lag putt from 30 feet.

    Joe Durant gets up-and-down for birdie at Cologuard

    “I’m always watching leaderboards. I just can’t help myself,” said Durant, who turns 60 in April. He now has one more Champions Tour win than he has victories on the PGA TOUR (four). “I knew I was going to have to finish strong. I was trying to hang on the best I could.”

    Steven Alker, who tied Sunday’s low score of 65, tied for second alongside Jerry Kelly (67) and Sutherland (68). Marco Dawson, winner of the inaugural Cologuard Classic in 2015, and Alex Cejka (69) tied for fifth at 10-under 203.

    Cink’s collapse was stunning. After hitting his second shot at 13 right of the green, into some scraggly sagebrush, Cink then clipped a grouping of small stumps with his third, leading to an unplayable lie and drop on his way to triple. He kept missing shots right. A poor tee shot into the scruffy desert at 15 led him to declare another unplayable, and at the par-5 16th, Cink ripped a tee shot over a fence and out-of-bounds.

    Durant, a terrific ball-striker who has been slowed by his putting in the past, made a clutch 5-footer for par alongside Cink at 13, and suddenly he led Alker, the 2022 standout player of the year, by two.

    Players convinced they were playing for second place with Cink pulling away early had renewed hope. In addition to Alker, that good-luck group included Kelly and Sutherland, sidelined since September with nerve pain in his legs. Sutherland birdied 13, 16 and 17, but he missed the green at the par-4 18th and made bogey for 68.

    Alker made his own eagle at the 11th and was first to post in double digits under par, shooting 6-under 65 that left him at 11-under. Kelly barely missed a birdie at 18 to finish on the same number. Dawson shot 68 to finish at 10-under. Durant, who began the day trailing Cink by two, was still on the course, and it became his tournament to win or lose.

    He had gone 56 tournaments and more than two years, dating back to the summer of 2021, since his last victory. But down the stretch, Durant never flinched.

    Cologuard’s mission in conducting a Champions Tour event is to bring attention to colorectal cancer (the second deadliest cancer) and get people to do advanced screenings. Durant had to address a small scare of his own with skin cancer the week before the tournament, and never hit a golf ball. Sunday, he kept thinking of his nephew, Lee Stewart, a little brother to him, whom he lost to cancer last summer. Durant wanted to make him proud.

    Cink was making only his sixth start on the Champions Tour and seemed to be in a comfortable position as he led by two heading into Sunday’s final round at La Paloma Country Club, a new venue for the tourney. He had opened by shooting a blistering 9-under 62 Friday; Sunday, he reached 14-under after a hot start to open up a four-shot lead.

    But that one swing on 13 dramatically changed the tournament. Durant took advantage. He pulled even with Cink at the 511-yard 11th, where he holed a 30-footer from the left collar that swung hard to the right and dropped into the cup for eagle. Cink two-putted for birdie from just off the green, and they were knotted at 13-under, three shots clear of Dawson.

    Dawson had played his way into contention with a red-hot stretch in the middle of the round that delivered four birdies in a six-hole stretch beginning at the sixth.

    Sunday in Tucson was accompanied by the first significant winds of the week. The more challenging conditions, combined with La Paloma’s small greens, made scoring difficult and birdies hard to come by.

    “This golf course, if you get going just a little off-line, it can make you uncomfortable all day long,” reported John Cook on Golf Channel.

    The Cologuard Classic was the fourth event of the 2024 PGA TOUR Champions schedule. Alker, who won the season opener in Hawaii (Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai) on the heels of capturing the 2023 season finale in Arizona (Charles Schwab Cup Championship), played well enough to keep his lead in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup standings. Durant vaulted into to third.

    Next up for the Champions Tour will be the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, California, March 22-24. Ernie Els is the defending champion.

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