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John Cook falters at No. 18 but wins Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in playoff

LUTZ — When his birdie putt dropped into the cup on the 18th green, John Cook gave a little fist pump. And a huge sigh of relief.

Having blown a two-shot lead on the final hole of regulation with a double bogey, Cook redeemed himself in a playoff against Jay Don Blake to win the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Both players shot 9-under 204 for the 54-hole tournament. Cook shot a final-round 2-over 73 while Blake shot 1-under 70. Cook pocketed $255,000 for his second win on the Champions Tour this year and seventh of his career.

It is also the first time in 107 tries that Cook won in Florida.

There have been less stressful wins in his career.

"Didn't want that playoff," Cook said. "That shouldn't have happened. I'm just thankful I got the opportunity to redeem myself."

Thanks to a meltdown on the 14th hole by Russ Cochran, Cook had a two-shot lead entering the final hole. He had 174 yards to the pin. He figured he'd hit his 6-iron to the middle of the green.

That didn't happen.

Instead, the ball squirted right and sailed into the middle of the greenside water hazard. Cook said he wasn't trying to hit it anywhere near the water.

"That was just a bad shot," Cook said. "I half-chunked it. We're not supposed to hit shots like that. There was no rhyme or reason for me to hit that shot. I wasn't looking there or thinking about going there."

That opened the door for Blake, who had birdied the 18th to get to 9 under.

Just as Blake got help to get into the playoff, Cook got help from Cochran to get into the lead.

Cook started his day a shot ahead of Cochran, who was his playing partner on Sunday. Cook, 53, could get nothing going on the front nine and was 2 over at the turn, three shots behind Cochran.

Cook pulled within two of Cochran after the 12th hole, but he missed a 2-foot birdie putt on the 13th.

"I don't know how that happened," Cook said. "I guess that's just being 53 years old."

Then came the par-5 14th hole.

Cochran decided to make a statement by going for the green in two. But he hit his 3-wood left into the water. By the time Cochran was done hacking away, he had a triple-bogey 8. Cook played conservatively and knocked in a short birdie putt.

He went from two shots down to two shots ahead.

"I was a little surprised he hit 3-wood," Cook said. "With a two-shot lead, there's really nowhere to go. You can never criticize another player for what they're thinking. I'm sure he's second-guessing himself as well."

Cochran said he's not.

"I don't second-guess my decision," he said.

With Cochran in the rearview, all Cook had to do was stay steady on the final four holes. And except for one shot, he did.

Playing in the group ahead, Blake hit the flag stick with his approach shot on 18 and birdied to go to 9 under. As he was signing his scorecard, he figured he was third, maybe second. Then he was told Cook went in the water and realized a playoff was possible.

"I was pretty surprised," Blake said. "The way (Cook and Cochran) were playing, I thought I was going to be good at second or third."

In the playoff, Cook hit his drive to almost the same area he did 20 minutes earlier. Blake pulled his drive into a fairway bunker.

"All day long, every tee shot I played was a bit of a fade," Blake said. "The playoff hole, I aimed at those bunkers and hit it really solid and went dead straight into those bunkers."

Given a second chance at the 18th hole fairway shot, Cook knocked it to within 8 feet.

"I walked straight past my other divot and went, 'Yuck,' " Cook said. "No wonder it went into the water. This time, I just made a good swing. It got up in the air, and it was perfect."

Blake was not perfect. His second shot found the greenside bunker. His third shot settled about 5 feet from the hole. When Cook drained his birdie, the tournament was over.

"He kind of put me out of my misery, I guess you could say," Blake said.

The second-place finish is Blake's best in 31 career Champions Tour events. He earned $149,600, the largest check he has cashed on the senior circuit.

This is the first time the tournament needed a playoff since 1992. Cook admitted to being shaken after regulation, but he said he was able to calm down thanks to his caddie, Tommy Anderson.

"He really settled me down," Cook said. "We walked back to the 18th hole, and he told me, 'J.C., it's hole No. 1. Let's just hit some quality shots.'

"That's why we've been together for four years and won seven times. He really stepped up."

Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected]

John Cook falters at No. 18 but wins Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in playoff 04/17/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 10:25pm]
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