By J.S. Scredon
ATLANTA - Duluth's Stewart Cink birdied the opening hole at Saturday's third round of The Tour Championship to move to 8-under-par for the tournament, but missed too many fairways and greens in regulation to match his two previous sub-par rounds, finishing the day with a 1-over-par 71.
He now stands 6-under-par for the tournament, tied for 14th place in the 30-man field and 13 shots behind the leader.
The leader is the incomparable Tiger Woods, who maintained his three-stroke lead with a 6-under-par 64 and stands at 19 under for the tournament.
Saturday's other highlight was a course record 60 by Zach Johnson, this year's Masters champion, who also won The AT&T Classic at the TPC in Sugarloaf back in May. Even with that round, however, Johnson remains six strokes behind Woods.
Cink entered The Tour Championship at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta coming off a strong seventh-place finish last week at the BMW Championship at Cog Hill. His solid play continued in the first two rounds this week, shooting 66 and 67.
But the lanky Georgia Tech graduate had too many errant tee shots into the rough and approach shots off the green, and didn't give himself enough opportunities to make birdies.
After making a 10-footer for birdie on the opening hole, he bogeyed three holes on the front nine, all par 4s.
"I missed too many fairways, too many greens," Cink said. "The course will play fairly easy if you're in the fairway, but there are too many variables coming out of the rough."
On the third hole, his second shot landed over the green, and he couldn't get up and down from 46 feet away. His drive on the next hole found the right rough, and his approach shot left him 70 feet away, causing the second bogey.
Cink kept the round from getting away by saving par on the next two holes. From a sand trap next to the green, he knocked his ball within 3 feet of the pin on No. 5, a 520-yard par 4. Cink's drive on the 208-yard par-3 was 60 feet past the pin, and he needed to drain a 6-footer to save par there.
But he couldn't save enough holes after that. Another drive found the right rough on No. 8, a 405-yard par 4, and Cink found a green side bunker again with his approach shot. This time he couldn't work enough magic to get close to the hole, leaving the sand shot 12 feet away and missing his par putt.
Cink had two bright moments during the day. He reached the par-5, 600-yard No. 9 hole in two, walloping his drive 314 yards. His putt for eagle from 20 feet didn't fall, but the birdie brought him back to 1-over for the round.
After two more bogeys at 10 and 14, Cink eagled the par 5, 495-yard 15th hole. His drive hit the fairway, and his 200-yard approach shot landed 17 feet from the cup.
"The eagle came at a time I needed it, because I was pretty frustrated," Cink said. "I hit a driver, then a 6 iron into the green, and gave myself a chance to finish strong."
And he had that chance, knocking his tee shot on the 235-yard par-3 18th hole to within 8 feet of the cup. He thought the downhill putt would break right, but it slid by on the left side.
Cink is projected to finish in 24th place in the PGA Tour's inaugural FedEx Cup standings and entered this week with $2.22 million in earnings for 2007, a successful season by any measure.
With little to lose today, his plan is simple: "I need to play aggressively and get whatever the course will take. You just get as many birdies as you can."