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John Cook knows how to finish strong

John Cook still hears the message his father Jim preached all those years ago.

Finish strong.

It's been almost 50 years since Jim Cook was an assistant football coach on Woody Hayes' staff at Ohio State, but the message has remained timeless in the Cook family, where the blood runs scarlet.

It has helped guide John Cook through his professional golf career, and it at least partially explains why Cook traditionally has played well late in the golf season.

It's happened the past two years on the Champions Tour. After his second-round 64 in the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club, Cook has a shot - albeit a distant one - to capture his first win of the season today, though he will start the final round five strokes behind leader Russ Cochran.

"This year I've been way too close not to have won, and it's not that it upsets me but it disappoints me," said Cook, who won 11 times on the PGA Tour and has two Champions Tour victories.

"It's been a nice year, but (I) can cap it off with some wins. I want to finish strong. That's what my dad always told his kids."

For four decades, Cook has been one of professional golf's classiest people, with a game to match. He never was a huge star, but few players can match his longevity, his achievements and his style.

Born in Ohio but raised in southern California, Cook is a Buckeye to the core. It was no coincidence he wore a gray shirt with red stripes Saturday. He puts a buckeye mark on his golf balls and has an Ohio State logo on his bag. Even his ball mark repair tool is from Ohio State.

No wonder his heart - and his game - beat a little faster during football season.

"I get fired up, I really do," Cook said.

He had reason to be excited Saturday, and it wasn't just the fact his beloved Buckeyes were beating up on Eastern Michigan. Cook's 8-under 64 was his lowest round of the season, coming 24 hours after an indifferent opening-round 72.

That sent him to the practice tee Friday for some extra work, and Cook figures he "must have found something."

He shot 8-under 29 on his first nine holes (the back side), bolting up the leader board.

At the par-4 14th, Cook holed a 170-yard 6-iron "that looked like it could go in" from the moment it left the club. One hole later, Cook nearly holed a 9-iron approach shot.

By the time he leaned over a 10-footer for birdie at his ninth hole - with a chance to shoot 28 - Cook knew it was a special day.

"I was thinking if I make this, I could shoot 9-under par (on nine holes). I've never done that before," he said.

Cook played his final 10 holes even par, good enough to have a chance today.

He has finished second three times this year and could have won the Jeld-Wen Tradition last month before making an uncharacteristic mental blunder on the 16th hole of the final round, a mistake that haunted him. "I was deflated for three weeks," Cook said.

But it's football season. For Cook - and his game - it doesn't get much better.

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