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Stewart Cink local favourite at Sugarloaf

In the absence of defending champion Phil Mickelson, fellow American Stewart Cink is the most likely player to shine at this week's Atlanta Classic in Duluth, Georgia.

Cink, a four-times PGA Tour winner, has a home at the hosting Tournament Players Club Sugarloaf and knows the undulating, par-72 course as well as anyone in the field.

He has produced six top-10s at the event, including a runner-up spot behind David Duval in 1999, and will tee off in Thursday's opening round fresh from his best performance of the year.

"I'm hitting the shots that I'm looking for," Cink, the world number 18, told reporters after tying for third at the prestigious Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday.

"That's the thing I like about my golf game right now is that I'm producing the shots that I'm trying to produce.

"While I'm hitting the odd, crooked one or not getting up-and-down here and there when I'd like to, I'm getting a lot closer and a lot better. Mentally I'm in a better place than I was a short time ago."

The 33-year-old from Alabama fired a flawless, six-under-par 66 in the final round at the Players to finish three strokes behind tournament winner Mickelson.

"A round like that, with a little bit of pressure, a little bit of nerves out there and some of those shots coming down the stretch, can only do you good for memory's sake," said Cink, who has three top-10s in 11 PGA Tour starts this season.

"When you're getting over a shot and you're feeling vulnerable in the future, I'll think about the shots I hit and how I pulled them off. It makes it seem easier when you've done it before."

Asked if he felt ready to win his first PGA Tour title since the 2004 WGC-NEC Invitational, he replied: "It's hard to say what winning feels like beforehand because you never really know what to expect until it happens. But I'm certainly much closer."

Although most of the big names are absent from Sugarloaf after playing last week in the event widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major, five of the world's top 20 will be in action.

Apart from Cink, seventh-ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden is in the field, along with Masters champion Zach Johnson (15), fellow American Charles Howell III (17) and South Africa's Rory Sabbatini (16).

Mickelson, who romped to victory by 13 shots last year, never planned to defend his title after the tournament date was switched from the week before the Masters to the middle of May on the revamped PGA Tour schedule.

"I'm really disappointed because that's a golf course and a tournament I've grown to love and have played well at," the left-hander said earlier this year.

"It was such a great place to prepare for the Masters. I'm really disappointed they moved the tournament. I'm going to really miss that place."

The Atlanta Classic, won by Mickelson a record three times, starts on Thursday.

 

May 16, 2007




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