(Reuters) - American Stewart Cink, winless since his British Open triumph five years ago, remained patient through a slow start before surging into a share of the clubhouse lead during the opening round at the $6.2 million Las Vegas Open on Thursday.
Cink was only even par after seven holes in an event that invariably takes a very low score to win in the Nevada desert, but the 41-year-old bided his time and was rewarded with seven birdies in the final 11 holes for a seven-under-par 64 at the TPC Summerlin.
Scot Martin Laird joined Cink one stroke ahead of compatriot Martin Knox, with half the field back in the clubhouse, while Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama was two strokes behind among a group that included Australian leukemia survivor Jarrod Lyle.
"Even though you know it’s a low scoring event you have to remember that it’s a long week," six-time PGA Tour winner Cink told PGATour.com.
"I looked up at the leaderboard when I was on eight green and I hadn’t made a birdie yet and somebody was already six under. That’s a little bit disheartening but you just have to remind yourself that it’s not a downpour of birdies from the very beginning."
Cink was widely cast as the villain when he beat Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry in 2009, depriving the then-59-year-old Watson of a sixth Open title and what would have been perhaps the greatest golf feat ever.
Nobody would have guessed that Cink’s career would stagnate in the aftermath of his greatest success. Even if he made 21 of 25 cuts last year, he did not post a top-10 finish.
"Last year was a close call year,” he said. "It could have been really good. I didn’t have many good weekends. I especially had some rough patches that lasted four or five holes. I’d give myself a C and that’s probably being generous."
Laird, meanwhile, continued the good form he displayed to tie for third in the tour season opener in California last week.
He got a little frustrated at some of the birdie chances that did not fall on the back nine, but a 40-foot birdie at the final hole helped balance the ledger.
"I’d missed a bunch of opportunities on the back nine (so) it was awfully nice to see that go in,” said the three-time tour winner.
(Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Alan Baldwin)