HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Stewart Cink maintained his five-stroke lead and set another scoring mark at the RBC Heritage with a 2-under 69 on Saturday, moving closer to his third victory at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Cink, 47, cooled off from his pace in the first two rounds, when he shot a pair of 63s for his lowest career 36-hole score and shattered the event’s halfway scoring mark shared by Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson.
This time, Cink scrambled his way to 18-under 195, also a tournament mark for lowest 54-hole score. The record had been held by Justin Leonard at 16-under 197 in 2002.
While Cink slowed down, no one else could dent his large lead amid Harbour Town’s narrow fairways and smallish greens. That left Cink in prime position for a third plaid winner’s jacket for his collection after finishing first in 2000 and 2004.
Cink rallied from behind in both of his previous wins here. His challenge 17 years later will be maintaining his poise on a course where front-runners are often upended. Only once in the past eight tournaments here as the third-round leader come out on top – and that was Webb Simpson last year.
Corey Conners began the day five shots behind Cink and finished with a 72. He was in a group of four at 10 under that included defending champ Simpson.
Simpson, who set the scoring mark of 22 under last June, had the round’s lowest score at 64.
While the first two rounds showed off Cink’s accuracy, this one called on his scrambling ability to stay out front. He was right off the tee on No. 1 and left of the fairway on No. 3, the latter miscue leading to his first bogey since Thursday’s opening hole.
Cink slammed the door on any hope he might falter with back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth holes to restore the big lead.
On the back nine, Cink saved par after driving onto the pine straw on No. 11 and again on the next hole after his tee shot stopped against a small, loose branch left of the fairway.
When Cink rolled an 8-footer for birdie on the 14th – his first in 40 rounds on that tricky par 3 – he had a six-shot lead.
Any hope of the world’s top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, making a third-round charge ended with a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 seventh. He shot a 71 and remained at 5 under.