Cook again came ever-so-close to winning a major championship at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship. For the third time in his Champions Tour career, he lost a major title in a playoff. Those go along with a couple of near-misses on the PGA TOUR and they are a source of considerable disappointment for Cook.
Senior's frustrations come from his inability to break into the winner's circle. In his second Champions Tour season, Senior has played wonderful golf. It seems like every week he's in with a chance to win. It hasn't happened but that won't stop Senior from again going hard after it Friday in the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
Cook targeted a fast start to 2011 as a major goal and he achieved it by winning in Hawaii. He's gone on to win twice more in his finest Champions Tour season. Cook's three wins match Tom Lehman's total atop the Champions Tour.
Missing the cut at the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in his hometown of Toledo was a bitter pill for Cook. He returned home to Orlando and spent two weeks grinding on his game. For Cook, that means invoking Venturi tips -- the sage advice from his lifelong swing guru, Ken Venturi. It's a familiar routine. Cook reviews the tips recorded on scorecards. The feedback is instant and Cook's play at Westchester proved it has a positive impact.
Cook found his game at Westchester. He wiped out a one-shot 54-hole deficit against Fred Couples and had a two-stroke lead in the final round. Then came a costly bogey and key birdie by Couples to send them into a sudden-death playoff. Couples won on the third extra hole and left Cook pondering the elusive nature of major championships.
"It's hard," Cook said. "I had my chances on the regular TOUR a couple of times. I've had three playoff losses here on this Tour and one other chance, real good chance there at Valhalla. Boy, it's disappointing. It really is.
"These are signature tournaments, and I've had my chances. I let two go. I don't know if I really let this one go, but I certainly let the Senior British in '08 and the Tradition in '09. You know, those were mine."
It baffles Cook, 53, that he was so successful in big events when he was younger but has not yet cracked the major championship barrier.
"Early on in my teenage years and my amateur years I won all those," he said. "The U.S. Amateurs and all the major junior events and all of that with all the same guys. We're still going toe to toe. Professional years it just seems I can't quite click in to get over that hump. That's what makes this such a great game, such a great sport that you can still do it in your 50s with the same guys you did it with in your teens."
Cook was the U.S. Amateur in 1978 and was runner-up the next year, losing to Mark O'Meara in the finals. In addition to his eight Champions Tour victories since 2007, he won also won 11 times on the PGA TOUR.
"That's kind of what I was thinking about all day," Cook said of the final round at Westchester. "I've played hundreds of rounds with Fred, and it's fun to be part of. It's not fun to be on that end, but it's fun to be part of.
"I'm disappointed that I didn't come out on top, but I'm not going to look back and say I should've or would've, could've done this. Just the conditions were such that it didn't allow that. But I battled all day. I really did."
Senior is a battler, too. He knows how close he's been. He's the only player to finish in the top 10 in four Champions Tour majors this year. He lost the Regions Tradition in a playoff to Tom Lehman and missed by one shot of joining the Fred Couples-Cook playoff at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship.
"Becoming the same thing every week, isn't it?" Senior said. "I just don't seem to produce anything on Sunday. Just starting to really bug me."
All that has separated him from the winner's circle is a timely putt or two. At Westchester, he had two putts center-cut that came up just a half-turn short.
"But I seem to do it a lot on Sundays," he said. "I just don't make many putts on Sunday."
By any measure, Senior's play has been exceptional. He's not the longest off the tee so he has to be straight and consistent. He has been. The proof is that he's moved to No. 2 on the Charles Schwab Cup points list. That doesn't happen without consistency and general excellence.
"I'm really happy with the golf I've been playing," Senior said. "I'd just like to hoist something. It's been nearly two years, and I've had plenty of opportunity and haven't closed one out yet. So yeah, I just feel a little disappointed. Hopefully it'll happen soon."