Cink running away from pack at Firestone

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2004

AKRON (AP) - Stewart Cink is making Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton's decision look better than ever.

Five days after becoming a captain's pick for the U.S. team, Cink seized control of the NEC Invitational with six straight one-putt greens and a chip-in from 50 feet for birdie on the 18th hole Saturday for a 2-under 68, giving him a five-shot lead over a trio of Ryder Cup teammates.

As Tiger Woods and David Toms lost ground over the closing holes at Firestone South, Cink marched along with a steady diet of fairways and greens and finished at 11-under 199.

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It was the largest 54-hole lead at this World Golf Championship event since Woods led by nine shots in 2000.

Woods struggled off the tee. He grazed a boy's head on the eighth hole, but really lost it on the final holes. He nearly shanked an iron to the right on the 17th and made bogey, then badly pulled his drive on the 18th beyond the trees and needed a great escape to save par for a 70.

''I hit it so great this morning it was scary,'' Woods said, who made three straight birdies to finish his second round in the rain-delayed tournament. ''Then all of a sudden, I come out here and play like an idiot.''

Toms ended his round with a double bogey for the second time this week, and this one was costly. He was two shots out of the lead when he pulled his tee shot on the 18th under a tree, advanced it into the rough, came up short of the green and then chipped 10 feet long and missed the putt. He shot 69.

Chris DiMarco, who played his way onto his first Ryder Cup team last week at the PGA Championship, had a 67 and will play in the final group with Cink on Sunday.

Cink, one of only five Ryder Cup players to have won this year, can break new ground. He has never won in six tries when he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead - in fact, he has never broken 70 in those final rounds.

He gave himself an extra cushion on the 18th. After going from the right rough just over the green, his chip was true all the way, and Cink thrust both arms in the air when it dropped.