x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cook can't cope with the heat

There was a dramatic final day at the Senior Open, where history repeated itself on the links of Royal Troon.

John Cook reacts after missing his putt on Sunday.
John Cook reacts after missing his putt on Sunday.

An astonishing and often manic final day here saw an errant John Cook relinquish a winning position on Sunday night before falling to defeat against his fellow American Bruce Vaughan at the first extra play-off hole. It also allowed Cook, 50, to revisit a feeling of personal desolation on a Scottish championship links course that one imagined he had left behind some time ago.

Cook was once rated among the world's 10 best players and was part of a US win in the 1993 Ryder Cup, but he is best remembered for squandering a lead in the final two holes of the 1992 British Open at Muirfield. Nick Faldo benefited from Cook's errors to become Open champion, and Vaughan played the Faldo role to perfection as his refusal to fade away enabled him to outlast his playing partner. Cook went out in 32 strokes to increase his overnight lead from one stroke to three on 10 under, but a closing nine of 39 saw him drop back to level par for the day and into an excruciating shootout. A double bogey six at the 11th hole started the unravelling, and a bogey at the 12th saw him drop back towards Vaughan and the rest of the field.

He held a one-shot lead standing on the 18th hole, but was short of the green and while Vaughan slotted a birdie to card a closing 70 Cook three putted for a 71 to slip to six under. Replaying the 18th in the play-off, Vaughan hit his drive down the fairway before knocking a six-iron to within 20 feet of the hole and cleanly knocked in the birdie. Cook, whose second shot put him within 12 feet of the pin, sent his third just past the hole to the right.

Cook had spoken about how winning would help to rid himself of the angst of a bogey-bogey finish that did for him at Muirfield all those years ago, but he probably did not envisage the trauma that was about to visit him in his final round. Time is a good healer, but Cook suddenly has the mental luggage of these ghoulish happenings at Royal Troon to accompany him back to the US. He would have been advised to avoid the local newspapers yesterday morning, with several tabloid headlines branding him a choker.

Cook felt that Vaughan won the tournament rather than him losing it. "The Open of 1992 never entered my mind, but it will now," he said. "Bruce won it. He played his heart out. I just couldn't get the job done." Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many bogeys spoil a round. Vaughan lost his mother Maxine in June after her car collided with a delivery lorry. The pain of losing this tournament was hardly going to numb his senses.

He was tearful in victory, yet Cook had every right to feel as watery. That Vaughan managed to exhibit such a stimulating quality of golf is a tribute to his own character. As well as the mental scars of his mother's death, Vaughan also had to contend with multiple operations on a knee injury over the past two years. It was his first career victory at the age of 51, but he picked a fine week in which to develop a winning habit. He finalised a place in next year's British Open at nearby Turnberry and a £157,918 (Dh1.15million) cheque by holing a 15-foot putt on the first extra hole, while Cook missed his attempt.

"I hit three of the best shots I hit in the tournament on 18," he said. "He had to make his putt to extend the play-off. You know, there was a change of events there, because he was way up, but I just hung in there." Vaughan became the latest major winner to overcome physical problems after Tiger Woods won the US Open with a knee injury and Padraig Harrington gained the Open, despite a wrist problem.

Greg Norman continued his stylish form after his third place at the Open, and has the US Senior Open to confront this week. The Australian closed with a 68 to end the week on two under, with the defending champion Tom Watson finishing on the same total after his closing round of 70. For Norman, it was another opportunity missed after finishing third at the Open last weekend. "The golfing gods were just not on my side the last couple of weeks," he said.

"I enjoyed the last two weeks. On a scale of 1 to 10, probably a 10. I enjoyed every step. "Though from a scoring standpoint, I haven't enjoyed that. "I felt like I've played a lot better than what my scores indicated, and it just didn't work out." Eduardo Romero missed the play-off by one stroke on five under after a bogey at the last, while dropped shots on the final two holes forced Bernhard Langer to settle for a 68 as he wound up on four under.

As a postscript to the Open, the Senior event was not found wanting, especially in the intensity of the final round. Buoyed by the presence of Watson, Norman and Langer, almost 40,000 spectators turned up in Scotland to watch this tournament, and created a new attendance record. It was a truly exhausting last day, yet one departed this glorious stretch of turf consumed by the inescapable feeling that the tortured Cook is destined to never win a British Open title of any form.