Originally created 05/18/98

Couples finds water, Cook gets Nelson title



IRVING, Texas -- Fred Couples stood on the 17th tee at the GTE Byron Nelson Classic and stared at the green 170 yards away and watched John Cook roll in a 6-foot putt to save par.

Now it was Couples turn.

He had no doubt about his club when he pulled the 6-iron from the bag. And he had no doubt that he had hit a good shot, until he watched it bounce off the rocks and into the water, giving Cook the victory Sunday.

"When it was in the air, I really felt it was going to be a good shot," Couples said after he closed with a 72 and squandered a four-stroke lead to finish tied for second with Hal Sutton and Harrison Frazar at 12-under-par 268, three strokes behind Cook.

"When it came up short it was shocking," Couples said about the errant shot that led to a triple-bogey 6.

The splash was a reminder of the double-bogey 7 Couples made on No. 13 in the final round of the Masters -- also hitting into the water -- as he finished second, one stroke behind Mark O'Meara.

"That was a terrible shot," he said about the ball in the water at Augusta. "This wasn't. I hit a 6-iron there, too. I guess I'm going to have to buy a new 6-iron."

Cook, who closed with a final-round 65 to erase a four-stroke deficit and pick up the $450,000 first prize, almost out-thought himself on No. 17, playing a 5-iron safely away from the water to the center of the green. It left him with a 45-foot putt he hit "a good six feet" past the hole.

But he made the putt coming back.

"I didn't want to be a hero," Cook said about playing safely for the center of the green. "I knew where I stood and I just wanted to make two pars."

Cook said he had no idea when he drove off the final tee that Couples had hit into the water.

"I heard something," he said about the loud groan that came up for the hole behind him, "but I didn't know what it was."

Tiger Woods, the defending Byron Nelson champion and winner last week at the BellSouth, made a run at the lead early but finished at 272, seven strokes back.

Couples started the day two strokes ahead of Frazar, his playing partner, and four strokes ahead of Cook. He was cruising along comfortably when in a matter of minutes a three-stroke lead became one.

While Cook, playing in the group in front of Couples, had a gimme birdie on No. 13, Couples' ball was against the lip of the fairway bunker at No. 12.

He popped it out, pitched to the green and missed a 20-foot try at the par-saving putt.

Cook, who trailed Couples by four strokes when he turned to the back nine, pulled into a tie at 15 under par with a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 14, his fourth birdie in six holes.

"When John started to make birdies I just didn't have enough," Couples said.

Couples got the lead back on No. 15 when he rolled in a 7-foot par putt moments after Cook made a bogey when he had to lay up short of the green from the left rough.

Cook wisely played an iron from the right rough on the par-5 16th hole, instead of trying to hit a wood. He was then able to play a 9-iron from 125 yards to four feet and made the birdie.

Couples drove into the left rough on No. 16 and tried to hit a wood, pulling the ball into a bunker left and well short of the green, leaving one of the hardest shots in golf -- a sand play from 58 yards.

He left the ball 25 feet from the pin and ended up making a par on a definite birdie hole.

Cook had played poorly the last four times out, twice missing the cut and not finishing higher than 43rd. But on this week he played well enough to get his 10th victory on the PGA Tour.

"I drove the ball well all week," he said. "I hit my irons well all week and I putted well when I had to."

DIVOTS: Mike "Fluff" Cowan, caddie for Woods, will carry the bag for Peter Jacobsen this week at the Colonial Invitational. Woods is off and Cowan used to caddie for Jacobsen. ... University of Texas standout Brad Elder, the 1997 Jack Nicklaus College Player of the Year, turned pro over the weekend and will make his debut this week at Colonial. ... Fans with cameras used to the be biggest problem for players, but now it's cellphones. There were numerous incidents during the tournament, including one that went off as Woods was putting on the final hole. ... John Daly, who seemed to have put his tendency to play poor final rounds when he is out of contention behind him, closed with a 79. ... Steve Stricker got his first top-five finish since the Tour Championship in 1996.