Old Friends Expect a Sunday "Dogfight" at Fields Ranch East
Stewart Cink is the open-eyed rookie at this week’s 83rd KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. In golf, and very few other sports, this is something that happens when you turn 50 and receive a new lease on a new tour.
Three days after his 50th birthday, Cink played his way into contention on Saturday at Fields Ranch East at PGA Frisco, shooting 5-under 67, a round that included an ace at the 191-yard 13th hole. He heads to Sunday only three shots out of the lead, with only one other player between him and the leader. Padraig Harrington (68) leads, and Steve Stricker (64, tying Harrington for tournament-best) is one shot behind Harrington.
Cink says he just wishes it were two other guys he was chasing.
“I'm three back, but it's probably the two players you don't want to be behind in this tournament, to be honest,” Cink said. “The two guys that fit this course the best and have the best experience and confidence over their last handful of seasons out here.”
Harrington, 51, won last summer’s U.S. Senior Open; Stricker, 56, won the first senior major of this season, the Regions Tradition. Cink has his work cut out. He knows he will have to stay on offense to have a chance. One of the two ahead of him might experience an off-day tomorrow, but both won’t.
“It’s going to be a dog fight,” Cink said.
A day earlier, Harrington was regretful that he had a chance to build a huge lead and did not. Saturday, he had a similar chance. With five birdies in 12 holes, Harrington was able to stretch a lead to six shots over Stricker, and seven over Cink. Cink has his wife, Lisa, as his caddie this week, and she informed her husband around the turn how wide the gap between him and Harrington had become. She is new to caddying, but had some wise advice: Let’s just chip away at it, little by little.
Cink made a birdie at the difficult 10th, and when he flushed a 6-iron at 13 and the ball vanished into the hole – his “eighth or ninth” ace, Cink said – the chase was on.
Harrington did his part to help when he made a sloppy double bogey at the 15th hole. Of course, it was Harrington, so there was a story involved. He was sailing along, having not made a bogey in his first 50 holes, and hit the fairway with his tee shot. Walking to his ball, he veered off to a competitors’ restroom. It was locked, and it took him a while to determine nobody was in there. He finally was able to relieve himself – which he joked, at his age, is no quick task – and got to his ball as quickly as he could, feeling quite rushed.
He just went blank from there, dumping a poorly struck 52-degree wedge into the penalty area that fronts the green. From high grass, it took two shots to get on the putting surface. Two more putts, he had double, slipping to 15 under. Game on. His closest pursuers had hope.
Stricker mostly had his head down, and kept on making birdies, eight in all. He stepped onto the 13th tee at 11 under par and walked off the 15th green at 14 under. Birdie-birdie-birdie.
“I mean, all you can do is continue to keep trying to make birdies,” said Stricker, who started the birdie burst by “stealing” one at 13, where he made a 30-footer. “I was in a position to try to be aggressive and try to hit good shots, make putts, try to make birdies. That was the mindset. Also not trying to make a bogey. I figured if I could go bogey-free today, I needed a good round to get right back in there.
“We got one more round and a lot of golf left.”
Harrington has experienced a wide array of rounds thus far in the debut of Fields Ranch East at PGA Frisco. His opening 64 was “easy.” The 68 he shot in the second round was a bit of a struggle. Saturday, he was on 68 again, but he knew with the start he had, it could have been so much better.
There is a word for his play: Golf. At least his final birdie at the 18th hole, where his drive narrowly escaped trouble right, but he holed a good putt for birdie, gave him his lead back at 16-under 200.
Harrington said he will be up for Sunday.
“Look, I love playing competitive golf where you're trying to win,” he said. I know it's a major tomorrow and you want to go out there and win majors more than the next event. But at the end of the day, we all play for that buzz coming down Sunday evening with a chance at winning, trying to manage our game, our thoughts.
“And it is really our thoughts, what we're thinking, good, bad, indifferent. And that's why we do it. We put ourselves out there and you would love in a perfect world that there was no drama in it, but the likelihood is at some stage tomorrow, it will be a bit of drama, and we'll have to figure it out.”
Cameron Doan of the Northern Texas PGA Section leads the 11 Club Professionals from the Corebridge Financial PGA Team that made the cut and are playing on the weekend. Doan, playing alongside longtime friend Harrison Frazar, shot 72 and stands at 1-over 217 for the week.
Doan, 55, is playing this week representing his 800 fellow professionals from his section, of which he is vice president. It’s been a great week for Doan already. He hit the historic first shot at Fields Ranch East at PGA Frisco on Thursday; played his old college roommate, Paul Stankowski, for two rounds (and three rounds with Frazar); and has been sharing his week with his son, Tristan, on the bag. His mom watched him play on Saturday.
Earning honors as Low Club Professional would be the capper on a week that Doan, PGA Director of Golf at Preston Trail Golf Club in nearby Dallas, will not soon forget.
“To be honest, it (Low Club Professional) didn't start out as a goal,” Doan said on Saturday. “It is one now. Probably try not to think about that tomorrow and just go play. But it would be an honor to stand on that 18th green with whoever wins this golf tournament.
“That would be cool.”