MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Stewart Cink felt the familiar emotions and butterflies and savored every minute of it on Saturday.
He had some great moments and tough ones at TPC Southwind, making five birdies and four bogeys on the way to a 1-under 69. Now he’s in a three-way tie with Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ben Crane for the lead at the St. Jude Classic after three rounds.
Win or lose on Sunday, the 44-year-old Cink is relishing his status as a contender, especially after all the personal and professional adversity he and his family have been through over the past few years.
“It’s a moment you don’t really get to experience that often, even if you’ve played on the Tour for 21 years,” Cink said. “This may only happen a handful of times. Maybe a few more. So it’s a really sweet feeling.”
Cink has gradually improved his game since missing several weeks last year to help care for his wife Lisa, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. He qualified for the U.S. Open on Monday in Ohio and has now had three solid rounds at the par-70 TPC Southwind course to be in the hunt for his first victory since winning the 2009 British Open.
Cink said Lisa is at the course this weekend and her health is good.
The six-time PGA Tour winner wasn’t very competitive from 2014 to 2016, with just one top 10 finish during those three years. But he’s enjoyed quite the resurgence this season, with two top 10s and eight top 25s in 18 events.
Now he’s got a real chance to add his seventh PGA victory.
“I’m probably not supposed to be doing this,” Cink said. “But I don’t really care about that. My golf ball doesn’t know how old I am.”
Cabrera Bello shot a 65 and Crane – who won the St. Jude Classic in 2014 – shot a 68 to join Cink at 9-under 201 for the tournament.
Cabrera Bello, a 33-year-old from Spain, has four international victories, but has never won on the PGA Tour. He’s 30th in the World Golf Ranking and chipped in on back-to-back holes on the front nine to jumpstart his round.
“It got me laughing because I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before,” Cabrera Bello said. “So obviously very pleased. It took away a little bit of pressure, just brought the smile to my face.”
Crane is one of Cink’s good friends on the tour and said it’s been rewarding to watch Cink overcome so much adversity. The two played in the same group on Saturday.
“The past year for Stewart has been something that you wouldn’t wish any couple to go through,” Crane said. “But we’ve watched Stewart and Lisa get closer to each other, get closer to God and be a light out here on the PGA Tour in the midst of these trials.”
Cink had a good start on Saturday, with birdies on three of his first five holes. He opened up a three shot lead at 11-under after a seven-foot birdie putt on No. 5, but dropped back to the field after three bogeys on the back nine.
Luke List and Chad Campbell both shot a 66 and are one stroke behind the leaders. List made two eagles on the back nine to vault into contention.
Campbell, who recently turned 43, hasn’t won a tournament since the 2007 Viking Classic. He started Saturday five shots back of the leaders, but charged up the leaderboard with five birdies and only one bogey.
Chez Reavie, Charl Schwartzel and Sebastian Munoz started the third round with a one shot lead over Cink, but all of them struggled. Reavie is still in contention after shooting a 72 and is tied with Matt Jones and Kevin Chappell at 7-under, two shots behind the leaders.
Schwartzel shot a 74 and Munoz a 75.