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(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 first round lead at the $6.2 million Las Vegas Open on Thursday.
Cink was even par after seven holes in the Nevada desert event, 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, 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 unfairly cast as a villain when he beat Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry in 2009, depriving the sentimental favorite of a sixth Open title at the age of 59 and what would have been one of golf's greatest ever feats.
Few would have guessed that Cink’s career would then stagnate. Cink made 21 of 25 cuts last year, but could not post one 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 form he displayed last week in the Tour season-opener in California where he tied for third.
He hit every green in regulation but was frustrated that some of the birdie chances did not fall on the back nine, though a 40-foot putt for birdie at the last hole squared the ledger.
"I’d missed a bunch of opportunities on the back nine (so) it was awfully nice to see that go in,” said Laird, a three-time Tour winner.
Defending champion Webb Simpson opened with a 69 in his first start since being on the losing American team at the Ryder Cup, where he played only two matches, posting a loss and a halve.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Alan Baldwin and Ian Ransom