AKRON, Ohio -- Thirty-five years after he first walked the wide, green fairways of Firestone Country Club, hurrying to keep up with his father's long strides, John Cook realized Saturday that he was back home.
Supported by a huge gallery that shouted encouragement and gained in size and volume with every birdie, Cook made a run at 59 -- the lowest score ever recorded in a PGA Tour event -- before settling for an 8-under-par 62 during the third round of the NEC World Series of Golf.
Cook's big climb -- he was tied for 10th and five shots off the lead starting the round -- left him a shot behind David Duval, who chipped in from 50 feet on the 17th hole to carry a one-shot lead over Cook into into the final round.
"It was a special day, it really was," an emotional Cook said. "I really wasn't aware of the galleries until 17. The crowd was pretty cool. I guess they knew. When I hit it in there about 6 feet, they knew what was going on. That was a great moment."
Cook grew up in Akron where his father, Jim, was an assistant football coach at the University of Akron. The family moved to California when John was 10.
His father, who taught him to play at Firestone when John was 5, has been the tournament manager of the World Series for the past 19 years.
Cook, who had just six birdies while playing the first two rounds in even par, had nine birdies Saturday as he headed to the 16th tee. He needed birdies on two of the last three holes to join Al Geiberger (1977) and Chip Beck (1991) as the only players to shoot 59 on tour.
At the 625-yard signature 16th hole -- known as "The Monster" -- he was in prime position after two shots. He was worried that his sand wedge from 59 yards was so good that it might hit the pin and bounce away. Instead, it floated over the green. He still salvaged par by chipping back to 6 feet and rolling in the twisting putt.
"Standing on 17 I said, 'You know what? Let's take driver out here and make two birdies,"' he said.
He bashed a drive into the middle of the fairway and then an 8-iron to 6 feet. It was then that he noticed how large the gallery was and how much it was pulling for him.
"I saw a lot of people out there, but I didn't really focus in on anybody," said Cook, who now lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "The crowd was great. It's a good support town and it's a great support state and they take care of the people who have some ties to Ohio."
The emotion of the moment worked against him.
"It got me too pumped up," he said. "I think I blew it right threw the break."
After missing the downhill 6-footer, his 3-footer coming back took a quirky U-turn on the edge of the cup and spun out, putting an end to his shot at 59. He barely missed a 9-footer for birdie at the closing hole.
The 62 matched the lowest score on tour this year.
Almost lost in the wake of Cook's blitz was the steady assault of Duval. While many of the rest of the big names near the top of the leaderboard floundered, Duval had four birdies on the front side.
Still, he was oblivious to what Cook was doing ahead of him.
"I don't watch scoreboards, really," he said. "I knew he shot a good score, but I didn't realize it until on the 18th. I thought he started the day a couple under par. I thought he shot maybe five or six under. I didn't realize he shot a 62 until I saw the score on the last hole."
Duval chipped in from 50 feet for a birdie from the front fringe at 17, but then had trouble getting out of the deep rough after pulling his drive on the closing hole. He settled for a bogey -- hitting a difficult 4-foot putt to save that -- for a second straight 66 that put him at 9-under 201.
It was the first time he had ever been paired with Tiger Woods in a tournament.
"The crowds were quite large and I dare say the majority were there to watch Tiger," he said. "But because of that I made up my mind to be very focused on what I was doing, not pay attention to the ruckus and not get worked up at all. I think I did a good job."
First-round leader Phil Mickelson, who won the World Series in 1996, also had a 66 to climb into third place at 7-under 203.
British Open and Masters winner Mark O'Meara was at 204 after a 65 that was eclipsed by his good friend Cook.
"He was birdieing every hole," O'Meara said. "I was happy for him. Winning here would mean a lot to him."
Woods double-bogeyed the closing hole after hitting his approach shot into the bunker behind the green. From a buried lie he blasted the ball just a few feet onto the fringe and then left another wedge shot 15 feet short of the hole. He two-putted for an even-par 70 that left him at 5-under 205.
"The debacle at 18 is not exactly how I wanted to end the round," Woods said.
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us