Austin Cooks Up Maiden Victory on the PGA Tour
ANOTHER week, another first-time winner on the PGA Tour. Rookie Austin Cook held on to take the RSM Classic by three strokes after a final round of 67.
Austin who? We shouldn't really be too surprised to see yet another young American break through. This was his fourth start of the season and he already had two top-25 finishes to his credit. At the start of play he was ranked 302nd in the world – this morning, that ranking will have soared.
Cook is not your typical PGA Tour pro – for a start, he stands just 5ft 7in and weighs 11st, but the 26-year-old gets it out there.
And this was a victory that proves he could be the real deal. He fought off proven winners Brian Gay, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman in difficult conditions at Sea Island. He beat runner-up J.J. Spaun by four shots in the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, climbed to third in the FedEx Cup standings and secured his place in the Players Championship and The Masters in 2018.
“It was definitely exciting and really brutal with the wind," Cook said. "I got off to a slow start but I was able to keep my head and knew there was a lot of golf to be played. With the wind and those conditions, a lot could happen.”
So it turned out. Cook birdied three of his last four holes after the three-shot lead he began the day with evaporated to one over Spaun. Cook made a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to finish at 21-under 261, while Spaun shot a 66.
Gay, a 45-year-old tour veteran, eagled the par-four 18th when he holed his approach from 161 yards with a nine-iron to break out of a five-way tie for third and finish at 16 under. He shot 68.
Kirk (71) and Kisner (68), past winners of the tournament, Brian Harman (65) and Andrew Landry (67) tied for fourth at 14 under.
It's the second year in a row that a rookie won the RSM Classic. Mackenzie Hughes survived a five-way playoff to capture the title last year in a Monday finish.
Spaun twice cut Cook's lead to one shot but he dropped a shot at the 17th and Cook birdied the 15th and 17th to seal a memorable victory.
Cook, who has Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley, carrying his bag, never slipped after a bogey at the second hole, just his second of the week. He missed only two fairways in the final round and made par after four of his five missed greens. He led the field in scrambling, converting 11 of 12 pars after missing greens, and tied for fourth by hitting 48 of 56 fairways.
"My ball-striking was great and for the most part, my putting was great. Holding the nerves down, playing a good round in these conditions. ... I'm so happy,” Cook said.
When asked how winning compared to how he envisioned such a scenario growing up, he said, "Better. It was way better because it actually happened. You always grow up thinking that you can do it, but actually being able to get the job done and perform and hold all these nerves down and still put in a good round especially in these conditions and on this golf course, I'm just so happy.
"My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year, and I'm on a good path so far," Cook said.
LPGA Tour Wrap Up
THE LPGA Tour season ended in spectacular fashion when Ariya Jutanugarn birdied the last hole to win the CME Group Tour Championship and Lexi Thompson did enough to take home the $1m bonus for the season-long points race.
Thompson was a bogey-free, six-under par on her round when she brilliantly lagged from 60 feet to 2 feet on the final hole for a virtual tap-in that would put her in the clubhouse at 15 under par. Incredibly, she missed.
Playing two groups behind her, Jutanugarn hit her approach shot to 20 feet and rolled in the putt to finish birdie-birdie and win the $500,000 first prize. It ended what had been a disappointing year for Jutanugarn, who won five times last year but only twice this season.
How did all of the drama unfold at the season ending @CMEGroupLPGA??
Find out in these highlights: pic.twitter.com/R4eZ65dRt4 — #RaceToCMEGlobe ???? (@LPGA) 20 November 2017
“To be honest, I had no expectation at all this week,” Jutanugarn said. “I really did not think about the outcome. I really focused on the things I can control and I had so much fun this week.
“I knew I had to make the putt on the final green, but I didn’t expect to make it.”
Despite her disappointment on the 18th green, Thompson won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average, as well as that $1m bonus.
If she had won the tournament, Thompson would have been Rolex Player of the Year but instead that race ended in a tie between So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park, who joins Nancy Lopez as the only players to win both Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.
“It’s a great honuor to be walking the same path as such a great player as Nancy Lopez,” Park said.
Thompson tried to hide her disappointment. “It was a good way to end the season” Thompson said about collecting the $1 million and winning the Vare Trophy. “Overall, a lot of positives to take from today. Winning the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy was a huge honour.”
Of that missed putt she said: “It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it. I really don’t know what happened there. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I putted great the whole day. I did my routine; I guess it’s just golf. I’ll move on.”
Thompson won twice in 2017 and finished second four times. She simply added a new fire and focus to her considerable talent.
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