John Cook claims first PGA win in 3 years

John Cook was so far off the lead heading into the final round of the Reno-Tahoe Open, he thought he would shoot for fourth place then jump on a plane to Los Angeles and have dinner with his daughter.

Those plans were waylaid Sunday when he shot an 8-under-par 64 and took advantage of a late triple-bogey by leader Jerry Kelly to earn his first PGA Tour victory in three years.

``It was a big surprise,'' said the 43-year-old Cook, who also had a 64 in the second round but shot a 74 Saturday and started the final round six strokes off the lead.

``I played so badly yesterday I was embarrassed to be out here to tell you the truth. ... Trying to stay competitive in your mid-40s is not easy.''

Cook's 17-under 271 total was one stroke better than Kelly and was worth $540,000.

Cook chipped in from 20 feet for an eagle 3 on the 518-yard 4th, part of a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run for a 30 on the front nine at the Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Kelly was looking for his first tour win and he held a one-stroke lead with three holes to go before disaster struck.

He missed the green left in the rough on the 163-yard, par-3 16th. He then mis-hit two chips and later lipped out about a 3-foot putt for a triple-bogey 6.

``It was one of those things that makes you love and hate the game,'' Kelly said. He said he swung the club well on his first two chip shots, but went under the ball each time.

``It wasn't like a choke kind of thing at all. I went through and I just happened to go under it. There was more grass than I thought, apparently,'' he said.

``I certainly didn't think I was going to miss a 2 1/2 -footer. It's painful lessons, but look out for me next week, I'm playing well,'' said the 34-year-old who now has finished in the top 10 seven times this year.

Kelly had a chance to birdie the 636-yard, par-5 17th, but was fooled by the break on the same 8-foot birdie putt Cook missed. He then came within about 4 inches of holing out from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 18th that would have forced a playoff. But he had to settle for a 1-foot birdie putt for a 71.

``It was 94 yards to the hole and I played it absolutely, exactly the way I wanted to and it just missed,'' Kelly said. ``If that thing would have hit the flag stick, it was going in.''

Two promising 22-year-olds were third and fourth after closing with 71s.

Bryce Molder, a four-time all-American at Georgia Tech making his debut as a pro, finished at 273, one stroke better than 2000 NCAA champion Charles Howell III.

Justin Leonard shot a final-round 66 to tie for fifth with Duffy Waldorf (68) at 13-under 275. Tim Herron, J.P. Hayes and Dan Forsman all had 69s and were at 276.

Cook walked off the 18th green a stroke behind Kelly and went into the clubhouse where he watched Kelly's nightmare on 16 on television.

``I feel bad for Jerry. It was difficult to watch,'' Cook said. ``I've been there. I've done that. I've done that at the British Open with a chance to win. It happens to everybody.''

Cook 3-putted the 17th hole for par and bogeyed the 18th to lose to Nick Faldo in the 1992 British Open at Muirfield. That second-place finish was one of four top fives in the majors from 1992-94 for Cook.

He also tied for second at the PGA Championship that year. The next year he tied for sixth at the PGA and in 1994 he tied for fifth at the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the PGA.

The win at Reno is his 11th in his 22-year career on tour. He entered the tournament 28th on the career money list with $8.7 million but has topped the $1 million mark only once in the last 10 years.

He said he was so embarrassed by his play in 1999 that he ``didn't even want to play golf'' but has seen steady improvement over the past six months.

His comeback Sunday was one of the biggest in a final round on tour this year, equaling the six strokes David Toms made up to win the Compaq Classic of New Orelans. The biggest deficit was the seven strokes Davis Love II overcame to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

``I had made only three eagles all year and I made four in the last two weeks — three this week,'' Cook said, including holing out a 188-yard 7-iron Friday on the 496-yard, par-4 12th, the 31st toughest hold on tour last year. ``Like Ken Venturi says, it's fun to win.''

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