HONOLULU — Just about every time he turned around on a brilliant, sun-drenched Friday afternoon, Stewart Cink was being told how bad he looked. All he could do was agree. And shrug. He didn’t care.
And why should he when his scorecard looked so good?
Matt Kuchar isn’t the only 40-something on the prowl at the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field event of the year. Thanks to a sparkling eight-under-par 62, Cink is hot on the heels of his fellow Georgian at Waialae Country Club, completing 36 holes in 10-under 130.
“I love coming back to Sony and Waialae every year,” said Cink, who trails Kuchar by four shots. “It’s a fun place to start the year for me. Got narrow fairways, smaller targets, and it feels like a good way to whip yourself into competitive shape really fast. So I choose to play here every year; have played here a lot of times.”
Cink, 45, is making his 16th start at Waialae C.C., and although he might say he loves the Seth Raynor design, it doesn’t necessarily love him back. He missed the cut in his first three visits, and only twice has he finished in the top 10, his best coming in 2005 when he tied for fifth. Friday’s 62 tied his career low score on the PGA Tour and was two shots better than his previous low in the tournament posted in the second round a year ago.
Friday’s performance was his 22nd round in a row at Waialae CC at par or better, so maybe the place is warming up to him. Whatever, he has been warming up his game for this week for some time.
“I've actually been playing pretty good golf a lot over the off-season. None of it counted except for the Father-Son [Challenge, in December],” said the five-time tour winner and 2009 Open champion. “This is a nice way to sort of get back into playing golf when I’m writing the score down and seeing the same things happening I’ve been seeing at home. I’ve been pleased with my game and been working hard on it and trying to make some incremental improvements here.”
Cink converted nine birdies against a lone bogey without hitting it particularly close to the hole. He just kept hitting greens in regulation and decided that one putt would suffice on a lot of them, even though he pointed out that he didn’t hit it particularly close to the hole. He ended up with just 24 putts on the day after needing 31 in the opening round.
“Obviously when you shoot a low score you’ve done a lot of that,” he said of the mid-range putting exhibition. “The ball went in the hole a lot today.”
Ranked 88th in the world, Cink recently signed a new equipment deal with Ping, even though he had been playing the clubs since May. The only new club in the bag is the putter (a coincidence?). And—no doubt this will delight Tiger Woods—Cink’s new staff bag has a drawing of a water faucet on it beneath his name. Woods, who was PGA Tour rookie of the year in 1996, one season before Cink won the honor, always liked to call him “Kitchen.” Cink would just roll his eyes and shake his head and say, “like I’ve never heard that before.”
What Cink kept hearing on Friday were remarks about the globs of sunscreen caked onto his face. New look. Fashion statement. Yeah, indeed there was a lot of lotion there. And for good reason. He had a chunk of basal cell carcinoma removed from the right side of his nose after last year’s Players Championship.
The diagnosis was a blow to a family who has had enough of the disease. In 2016, Cink’s wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her battle has been an inspiration to Stewart, who in no way could equate his problem to her life-threatening illness. Lisa is currently in remission, but as Stewart said, “we’re still going through it. My wife is not out of the woods, but she's doing great.
“But, yeah, definitely I wake up a little bit different every day now knowing what we been through and how it felt,” he added. “Those memories will never go away. So it does give me quite a different perspective out here on the golf course knowing that golf … it's really important, but it's not life or death. I think it took the need factor out of golf a little bit, which has been help for me for my mindset. When you’re playing out here because you need to play well, it's not really a healthy way for most of us to perform.”
More recently, Cink had a chemotherapy topical cream applied to his face, which makes his skin hypersensitive to sunlight. Thus, the need to put more than a dab of sunscreen on his face and neck and arms. It actually didn’t look bad at all. Just messy.
His golf was tidy, though, giving him one more reason for what can only be described as a sunny disposition.