Fortinet Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE new PGA Tour season begins this week at Napa Valley in a tournament that has a new sponsor and will now be called the Fortinet Championship.
Stewart Cink won last year at the age of 47. It was his seventh PGA Tour success but his first since The Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009 when he broke Tom Watson’s heart in a playoff. In the interim, his wife Lisa has battled cancer.
"I definitely had a lot of emotions out there today," said Cink, who had his son, Reagan, on the bag, and his wife walked alongside the pair on every hole.
"I just was overcome at a few times with a feeling of gratitude and just feeling like how fortunate I am to be in the position that I'm in. The last four or five holes of a PGA Tour event your name's on top of the leaderboard, but think about it, I've got my son caddying for me, my wife is in almost five-year remission now and she's walking out there just on the side of the ropes, and at 47 I'm able to compete at the highest level and now not just compete, but win."
Cink closed with a seven-under 65 - rebounding from a bogey on the 17th with a birdie on the 18th - for a two-stroke victory over Harry Higgs.
Cink thus became the oldest PGA Tour winner since Phil Mickelson at 48 at Pebble Beach in February 2019, although Mickelson would, of course, go on to win the US PGA Championship in May. Cink's last victory came at the expense of then-59-year-old Tom Watson at Turnberry, with Cink winning a four-hole playoff.
Cink did it the old fashioned way last year, with a short game that repeatedly put him in great shape on the greens. He single-putted 10 times, scrambled for pars after driving into the sand twice and had eight birdies to finish at 21-under 267.
Higgs shot a 68. Doc Redman closed with a 62, matching the lowest round of the tournament, to tie with Brian Stuard (70), Chez Reavie (66) and Kevin Streelman (67) at 18 under. Stuard, Cameron Percy, and James Hahn entered the day tied for the lead.
Percy’s challenge was over when he went double bogey, double bogey, bogey over a three-hole stretch on the front nine. Hahn (72) bogeyed three of the first six holes and couldn't recover. Stuard was one over through eight and chased the leaders the rest of the afternoon.
Cink's bogey on the par-4, 362-yard 17th was only his second of the week and trimmed his lead to one stroke after Higgs eagled the par-5 16th to get to 19 under. After hitting his second shot on the par-5 18th into the rough behind the green, Cink chipped to 3 feet to set up final birdie, then waited for the final three groups to finish.
Higgs missed a 10-foot birdie putt on 17, then parred 18, a hole where he made an albatross Friday.
Redman, who began the day eight strokes behind the leaders, closed with six consecutive birdies to take a two-stroke lead. The 22-year-old stayed on top for about two hours until Cink's final push. "The last few holes are pretty easy and I just got hot," Redman said. "It happens, so it was awesome."
With the Ryder Cup just around the corner it is something of a surprise to see Jon Rahm in the field. He will be joined by Mickelson, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, 2019 champion Cameron Champ, Harold Varner, Brandt Snedeker, two-time champion Brendan Steele, Will Zalatoris, Max Homa, Doc Redman, Marc Leishman, Charles Howell III, Sean O’Hair, Danny Willett and Si Woo Kim.
Rahm is enjoying an astonishing run of form. Although he finished second to Patrick Cantlay at the Tour Championship at East Lake he actually recorded the joint lowest 72-hole score of the 30-man field, losing only because Cantlay began the week on 10 under par as leader of the FedEx points table. The Spaniard won the US Open and seems to contend every time he tees it up. He will be a key member of Padraig Harrington’s US Ryder Cup team and will be looking for another big week here on a course that will suit his game right down to the ground.
Look out, too, for Zalatoris, a fearless young American who nearly won The Masters back in April.
It was won in 2015 by Sangmoon Bae, in 2016 by Emiliano Grillo, in 2017 and 2018 by Brendan Steele, in 2019 by Cameron Champ and last year by Stewart Cink.
Silverado Resort measures 7,166 yards. It was redesigned by Johnny Miller and features oak-lined fairways and dozens of water hazards
It is difficult to look beyond Rahm. His past five finishes? First, tied third, third, tied ninth and second. He is in a class of his own right now. Kevin Na has been in the form of his life and shared the lowest 72-hole total at the Tour Championship with Rahm. He has overcome all sorts of issues and turned himself into one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. Webb Simpson narrowly missed out on Ryder Cup selection. He is a gritty competitor and remains hugely underrated.
Jon Rahm. Difficult to see beyond the Spaniard
Kevin Na. Has become so consistent
Will Zalatoris. Tremendous prospect
Four to Follow:
Jon Rahm. A serial winner
Kevin Na. Keen to make a point to Steve Stricker
Will Zalatoris. Very impressive
Webb Simpson. All depends on his putting
Doc Redman. Has huge potential
Emiliano Grillo. Capable of going really low
Harry Higgs. Still looking to make the big breakthrough
Stephan Jaeger. Impressive form on Korn Ferry Tour last season
Kevin Chappell. Recovering from injury
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