Austin Cook, Talor Gooch share first-round lead at Houston Open

Austin Cook, Talor Gooch share first-round lead at Houston Open

PGA Tour

Austin Cook, Talor Gooch share first-round lead at Houston Open

By

Austin Cook may not be a Texan, but playing at the Houston Open may be the next best thing to a home game for the Arkansas native.

Cook fired a bogey-free 8-under 64 at The Golf Club of Houston to claim a share of the first-round lead with Talor Gooch.

Cook, 28, was a Monday Qualifier into this event in 2015 – only his second PGA Tour tournament at the time – and played his way into contention, including a memorable third-round pairing with Phil Mickelson.

“Saturday, I remember being on the first tee and telling my brother, ‘It’s 3‑wood, but I cannot tee it up that low right now, I’m so nervous,’ ” Cook recalled. “So we hit driver, pumped it in the bunker and made par on the hole and there we went.”

A trio of late bogeys on Sunday bumped Cook back to a T-11 finish, but that week proved that the former Arkansas Razorback could play at the highest level.

Cook eventually earned his card in 2017 and won the RSM Classic as a rookie. He struggled last season, missing 11 cuts in 23 starts, during a year that included the birth of his first daughter, Cameron, a move to a new home, and surgery for kidney stones. He slipped to No. 130 in the FedEx Cup standings.

Houston Open: Leaderboard | Tee times | Updates

This year he’s competed in all five Fall events, recording a T-14 in the season-opening A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, but entered this week having missed the cut at the last three tournaments.

Cook credited his fast start to a swing tip from his instructor, who noticed on video that his swing had gotten too steep. Cook focused on adding width to his swing and it clicked.

“The first ball Monday morning was what I’ve been looking for the last few weeks,” Cook said.

Was it ever. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on Thursday and missed only two fairways. He went out in a career-low of 29. Cooked wedged to six inches at the third hole to get into red figures before heating up with the best birdie-eagle streak of his career, going six under for a five-hole stretch beginning at No. 5 and highlighted by a 12-foot eagle at 8. It also tied for the best stretch on the Tour this season.

Gooch, an Oklahoma State product, enjoyed a birdie barrage of his own. He reeled off 10 birdies, including a 63-footer at the par-3 ninth, the longest made putt of his career, and holed a personal-best 156 feet of putts.

“When you get hot, you’ve got to stay on the train,” Gooch said. “So I was able to get on the train and stay on it.”

Going off in the first group of the day on the back nine, Sepp Straka carded birdies on his first four holes and kept his foot on the peddle en route to signing for a 7-under 65 and trails by one stroke. Another shot back is Russell Henley, the 2017 Houston Open champ, after a stellar 66. He entered the week with five straight top-10s at the event.

“It’s kind of weird,” Henley said of his success at The Golf Club of Houston. “I don’t really expect it, but it has worked out that way.”

Both young and old fared well in round one. Houston native Cole Hammer, the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world, overcame an early double bogey to post a 5-under 67. Hammer, a 20-year-old sophomore at Texas, is making his first start in a PGA Tour event since the 2015 U.S. Open when he wasn’t old enough to drive his courtesy cart. Hammer became the ninth amateur to make eight or more birdies in a round since 1996. Former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem, 49, stepped out of the broadcast booth to make a rare appearance with his clubs inside the ropes and shot 3-under 69.

The Houston Open is being played in the Fall portion of the Tour’s wrap-around season for the first time after losing its pre-Masters date and an 18-month absence on the Tour calendar. While the field lacks any players ranked in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking and just two of the top 50, Gooch, No. 208 in the world and seeking his first Tour title, embraced the opportunity.

“Two years ago I would have killed to be in this tournament,” said Gooch, who tried to Monday Qualify in 2017. “I love Houston. I’ll play this tournament as long as I’m able to.”

 

Latest

More Golfweek
Home