Stewart Cink opens with 68 and thinks he can win British Open at age 50

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United States Stewart Cink plays out of a bunker on the 18th green on the first day of the British Open Golf Championships at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HOYLAKE – Stewart Cink wouldn't seem to have a lot going for him at this British Open, least of all the fact he turned 50 two months ago and is eligible for the PGA Tour Champions.

Throw in the fact his flight from Atlanta was delayed by one day and he didn't see Royal Liverpool until Tuesday after a long flight. Or the fact he only has two top 10s in his 23 previous times playing the British Open.

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One of those, of course, was a victory at Turnberry in 2009. That has not been forgotten by Cink, who played bogey-free Thursday for a 3-under 68 that left him two shots behind Tommy Fleetwood and South African amateur Christo Lamprecht.

“Experience matters here probably as much as anywhere else,” Cink said.

Golf has been trending younger than ever, especially in the majors. Eight of the last nine winners were in their 20s, the exception being Brooks Koepka — all of 33 — winning the PGA Championship this year at Oak Hill.

Cink doesn't see it that way, even though he has dabbled on the 50-and-over PGA Tour Champions — he played a senior major last week in Ohio — and might spend more time there next year. It was only two years ago that he won the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.

“I'm not that different of a golfer than I was then,” he said. “I have no doubts I can win this. It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take some really, really exceptional play on my behalf. But it’s in there."

The oldest British Open champion was Old Tom Morris, who was 46 when he won in 1867. Cink was quick to refer to Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island two years ago when he was 50.

“I think that was probably a more difficult course than this,” Cink said. “Watching him win that, it didn't really surprise anybody. He's been so good for so long.”

And there was the matter of his lone major, not so much that he won, but whom he beat in a playoff — Tom Watson, who was 59 at Turnberry.

“I'm still way younger than he was then,” Cink said.

Still, it will take a lot of work, and he knows that. Ahead of him Thursday was Christo Lamprecht, the 22-year-old amateur from South Africa who looks like a giant and hits like one. Cink knows him from occasionally seeing him at Georgia Tech's practice facility.

Thursday was a day for scoring, and Cink did his part by avoiding the troublesome bunkers at Royal Liverpool except for one, and that time the ball was in the middle and left him a reasonable shot to get out.

At his side was his wife, Lisa, a cancer survivor who is caddying for him this week. Cink said she is as much a therapist as a caddie, maybe not the best in helping decide whether a shot should be a 4-iron or a 5-iron but able to keep his head in the right place.

And after a strong start, his confidence was starting to soar.

“It hasn't been that long since I won, so I know that I can still get up in the mix and give myself a chance to win,” he said. "The key to winning out here in this game, you’re not going to wrestle the bull to the ground very often. You’re going to just need to get yourself in position enough times where the winning happens.

“Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter who you are,” he said. “The greatest thing about Tiger was he put himself in position to win a whole lot of times, and it happened for him a lot of times. I want to get myself in the mix to have a chance to win on the last round, last nine holes.”


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