Cink pulls off surprise victory at MCI Classic

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The Independent Online

Stewart Cink, four shots behind when the round began, shot a 6-under 65 on Sunday to win the MCI Classic in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina as Ernie Els and Davis Love III faltered.

Cink, playing Harbour Town for the first time, was still down four shots after Els' tap-in birdie on the sixth hole, but the South African had five bogeys the rest of the way to scuttle a tournament he appeared to have wrapped up.

"Yeah, I played terrible," said Els, who closed with a 74 to finish five shots behind Cink. "I don't know what to say."

Cink had birdies on three of the final four holes to overtake Tom Lehman, whose also shot a 65 to jump from 12th to second.

Cink earned $540,000 for the victory.

Masters winner Vijay Singh shot a 64 to tie for third with Els, Love, Larry Mize, Edward Fryatt and first-round leader Dan Forsman.

"I wish I had played in this every year now," said Cink, a 27-year-old whose only other PGA Tour victory came in the 1997 Greater Hartford Open. "This sure is a week to remember."

Or one to forget, if you're Els or Love.

The two were ahead of the field and seemingly in command after Saturday's round. Els was at 12 under and cruising with two remarkable saves - he parred the fifth hole after hitting three bunkers made a 1-foot birdie putt on the sixth.

But Els' game came apart after he stubbed a chip on the eighth hole that led to a bogey. He flopped on a flop shot three holes later for another bogey, his third in five holes. Els pushed a 6-foot par putt wide on the par-3 14th and was never in it again.

"I think the bogey on 8 kind of got to me a little bit," he said. "I started looking at the scoreboards."

What he saw was Cink and Lehman moving up.

Cink had birdies on the sixth, eighth and ninth holes and turned just a shot behind Els.

"I knew after the front nine, I could have a shot at making a charge," Cink said. "But I wanted to make sure I was pushing forward."

He did that when it counted. Cink slipped in an 8-foot putt for birdie on the 15th, a 6-foot putt for birdie to take the lead on the 16th. On the 18th, needing a par to win - with Lehman practicing putts in hopes of a playoff - Cink hit his approach shot 20 feet from the flag and rolled that in for his victory.

Lehman was surprised he had a shot at the championship. His front-nine 31 left him two behind Els and a birdie on the 17th gave him a one-stroke lead. But he barely missed a 17-foot putt on the final hole and headed to the practice range to loosen up.

Leading final-round scores from the MCI Heritage Classic in South Carolina (USA unless stated):

270 S Cink 71 68 66 65 272 T Lehman 70 70 67 65 275 E Els (SA) 68 67 66 74, D Forsman 66 71 68 70, D Love 68 66 70 71, L Mize 73 67 65 70, V Singh (Fij) 70 70 71 64, E Fryatt (GB) 67 74 65 69 276 J Huston 71 68 69 68, J Parnevik (Swe) 70 69 67 70 277 J Kaye 73 67 71 66, S Lowery 73 64 66 74, S Verplank 70 71 69 67, B Elder 70 71 68 68 278 S Dunlap 72 70 68 68, S Hoch 73 68 64 73, J Kelly 70 71 66 71, S Pate 74 70 68 66, C Perry 73 71 65 69, C Stadler 76 65 69 68, C Strange 73 69 65 71, M Wiebe 71 70 68 69, C Franco (Par) 73 70 68 67, N Begay 71 66 68 73


281 N Price (Zim) 75 67 69 70, R Goosen (SA) 71 73 66 71 287 G Norman (Aus) 71 71 70 75