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Couples survives Cook, Westchester CC for major win

HARRISON, N.Y. -- It doesn't matter the era or the tour, wind plus final-round pressure equals interesting.

Unless you're a golfer trying to figure out the former, or survive the latter. In that case, a different description, something salty, might be called for.

Both variables were in play Sunday during the final round of the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship at Westchester CC, particularly for the last group of John Cook, Fred Couples and Peter Senior. They had completed seven holes when dangerous weather caused a suspension of nearly two hours. Upon returning to the course at 1:45 p.m., the wind had kicked up.

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Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The breeze was nothing of epic proportions, mind you, but on an old-style layout whose hard holes are very hard, gusts of up to 20 miles per hour were more than strong enough to heighten the challenge. Couples eventually solved it the best, defeating Cook with a birdie on the third playoff hole. It was a hard-earned victory for Couples, in just his second tournament since having most of the summer off because of his chronically bad back.

"This is a golf course I can handle, and I survived," Couples said after his final-round of even-par 71. "It was a little edgy out there today. I'm not going to lie to you. With the wind blowing, I thought, 'Oh my god, could it just be a little easier?'"

On Sunday, Couples' left hip stiffened after he spent the suspension in the air-conditioned locker room -- "But if I had not won today, that would not have been an excuse," he said -- but he had other problems.

Take the 473-yard, par-4 12th hole. Difficult on a day when you can't fly a kite, its disposition darkens in the wind. It's one thing for short-hitting Corey Pavin to have to hit a driver on his approach at No. 12, as he did during the third round. But Couples still has PGA Tour-length, and he was left with a 3-wood into the 12th Sunday afternoon. He bogeyed the hole after missing the green to the right, but Cook made a 5, too, his second consecutive bogey, and still led Couples by one.

Cook still held a one-stroke advantage over Couples arriving at Westchester's long, par-3 16th hole, listed as 230 yards but playing 225 for the final round, not much of a present given the wind.

"It was 225 into the wind, hard," Cook said, who didn't want to hit a 3-wood and chose a hybrid. "And the hybrid, to me, into the wind will spin too much. I was just trying to hit one low and just trying to do anything to hook it back, and I kind of got it up and it just fluttered up and spun up in the air and then caught a big wall of wind."

Cook's ball finished well short of the green, and his pitch checked much more quickly than he thought it would, coming up 25 feet short of the flagstick. Couples also missed the green but pitched to within 15 feet. Knowing the par-5 18th hole, normally a vulnerable 532 yards, would also play into the breeze and make a birdie harder to make even with his power, Couples felt more urgency on his par effort.

"It was a nice putt," Couples said. "I read it correctly and hit it and it went in. I felt like if I missed that, I would be in big trouble."

Instead he was tied. Couples and Cook would end up playing the into-the-wind 18th hole three times -- the 72nd hole and for the first two holes of a sudden-death playoff after they tied at 11-under 273. They each parred it three times, although Couples' power enabled him to reach the green in two shots with a 3-wood on the second playoff hole. But he raced his 60-foot eagle putt 10 feet past the cup and missed the comebacker. Cook never came close to getting to 18 in two on Sunday.

Related: A frame-by-frame look at Couples' swing

On the third extra hole, the par-4 17th, Couples hit a beautiful 76-yard second shot to within three feet to set up a winning birdie. A long, difficult day was over.

"Maybe I was lucky that the wind blew and it was tough," Couples said, "because John did make a lot of birdies today [five], but I think he made three bogeys on the back nine. It was just difficult out there. With the wind, there were no easy shots, and there were a lot of holes where you couldn't get the ball close with the pins. They had some tough pins."

While Couples savored a victory so soon after returning to competition following his injury -- and subsequent treatment for his back in Germany, where proteins of his blood were injected into the damaged area -- Cook was left to wonder when his luck was going to change in his bid to win a senior major championship.

This marked the third time Cook has lost a playoff at a major on the Champions Tour, having been a runner-up to Bruce Vaughan at the 2008 Senior British Open and to Mike Reid at the 2009 Jeld-Wen Tradition. He bogeyed the 72nd hole at both of those tournaments, so his final-round 70 Sunday wasn't as dispiriting to him despite losing a two-shot lead with nine holes to go.

"This one was a little different," Cook said. "I don't feel like it got away. I feel like it was a tough golf course and we battled and nobody was doing anything great. You were just making pars. That back side -- it was kind of like the PGA [Championship] last week, just kind of hang on, get through No. 10 and hang on, because there were not many opportunities from there on in. But I battled all day. I really did."

-- Bill Fields

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