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Stewart Cink returns to old stomping grounds at Firestone

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Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink during the final round of the 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational held on the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, on August 27, 2006.  (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA)

Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink during the final round of the 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational held on the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, on August 27, 2006. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA)

Won here on TOUR in 2004; finished runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2006

    Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour

    Stewart Cink last played Firestone Country Club in 2011, at the PGA TOUR’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He won the event in 2004 and nearly won it again two years later, but Tiger Woods prevailed on the fourth playoff hole with an 8-foot birdie putt. In all, Cink has notched seven top-25s in 13 starts at Firestone (South) in Akron, Ohio.

    Suffice it to say Cink, 50, feels comfortable at the venue, which now hosts the Kaulig Companies Championship, the fourth major on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule. It mark Cink’s second Champions Tour start, after debuting in style with a solo third at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Frisco, Texas, in May, carding four rounds in the 60s to finish 16 under, two shots behind Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington (Stricker won in a playoff).

    Stewart Cink wins the 2004 NEC Invitational

    Cink remains exempt on the PGA TOUR, so he’s dipping his toe at select events. He has said the TOUR will be his priority in the hopes he can qualify for some of next year’s Designated events. He has played in 19 events on the 2022-23 slate and made only nine cuts, with a best finish of T21.

    “It (the Kaulig Companies Championship) is one of the tournaments I sort of circled on the calendar because of the venue,” Cink said at a news conference on Wednesday morning. “So it's always fun to come back to a place you have good memories. Played here for a lot of years and been watching the last few years when the Champions (Tour) guys have been playing here with some envy. Yeah, it's nice to be back.”

    Cink didn’t arrive until late Tuesday, so he hadn’t had a chance to revisit the course yet. But he said Justin Leonard told him he’ll find it almost exactly as he left it 12 years ago.

    “I played here enough where I remember quite a lot,” Cink said. “I won't remember the nuances of some of the hole locations and obviously I won't know about, like, how the rough is yet or the bunkers, nothing like that, but I don't think the course has changed. Maybe the tee placements might somewhat change a little since it's a different Tour.

    “But what I remember the most about this place is that it's just – you need to drive it really well and you can afford to be in the rough, but you can't afford to be outside the treeline. The trees are just, like, so claustrophobic here. With the length of these holes, you just need to play from within the tree corridors. So that will be a big decision-making factor when it comes to playing on this golf course.”

    Stewart Cink, on verge of turning 50, cherishes past while thinking to future

    Cink, an eight-time winner on the PGA TOUR including as recently as the 2021 RBC Heritage, obviously has enough game to win on PGA TOUR Champions sooner rather than later. But he also has plenty of respect for the competition.

    “It's super competitive for one thing, for sure,” Cink said. “I played pretty decent golf (at the Senior PGA) and didn't win. There's no secret that Stricker and Harrington and Langer -- I hate to even name any names because there are so many guys that can jump up and play great, but when you've played golf for this long, you're experienced. You have a lot of good and bad memories. There's not raw talent out here; this is polished-off talent. So when you get it going the right way and your body's working, usually the old tricks come to the surface and you can get the job done. It's just a lot of mature golf.”

    Cink’s wife, Lisa, again will be on the bag. She also caddied for him in Frisco.

    “She's been caddying for a few months and she's going to continue – I can't fire her, so it's up to her,” Cink said. “She's got 100% of the timeline on her job position. Right now she's doing a good job and I just like having her out there. It's good for our relationship.

    “She may not be doing some of the same things that the pro caddies do, as far as like decision-making and club selection, all that stuff, but she knows me really well and she's kind of like having a therapist on the bag, which is usually helpful because we can get into some dark places out there. So she's caddying and it's fun. It's a good little stretch of our life here.”

    Win or lose, the Cinks will immediately head for Hoylake, England, after the conclusion of the Kaulig Companies Championship for the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Cink won his only major at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, famously defeating Tom Watson in a playoff.

    Cink chips in for birdie at 2004 NEC Invitational

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