John Cook wanted to shoot low scores and give himself a chance at his first victory in nearly four years. Mission accomplished in record-setting fashion.
Cook shot an 8-under-par 63 Saturday in the third round of the $1.35 million St. Jude Classic. That gave him a six-stroke lead and a 54-hole score of 24-under 189, the lowest total in PGA Tour history through the first three rounds.
That breaks the previous mark of 191 set by Johnny Palmer in 1954 and tied by Gay Brewer in 1967. His 189 also tied the low total through three consecutive rounds set by Charlie Harper during the 1954 Texas Open.
“I’ve done things the way that I’ve wanted to do it,” said Cook, who last won in 1992 when he took three tournaments.
“In my mind, somewhere back in the cobwebs of my head in the last couple of years, I knew that I could do something like this at some point in time. Again, whether it happens tomorrow or not, I don’t know.”
John Adams, playing with Cook in the final group, started the round three strokes behind Cook. He finished six back at 18-under 195 despite his own bogey-free round of 66.
Adams came into the interview room wanting to talk about Cook’s eight-birdie, no-bogey performance.
“You get kind of wrapped up watching him go,” he said. “When it’s your turn to make birdie, sometimes you get lackadaisical a little bit.”
Cook declined to celebrate early.
“There’s a lot of good scores to be shot. Luckily, I’ve shot three of them, but someone will come out tomorrow and shoot a low score,” he said.
Adams shot down that idea, pointing out how well Cook is driving, putting and thinking.
“Tomorrow I would just have to lose my mind out there and shoot 9- or 10-under. And in most cases, that’s not going to happen,” Adams said. “It’s fun to watch. He’s playing good. Maybe he’ll drag me along with him a little bit.”
Kenny Perry was briefly tied with Adams at 16 under, but he fell back to 196 after a 67. Paul Stankowski shot 66 but was 10 back at 199. Kirk Triplett (64) and Justin Leonard (66) were at 200.
Cook, whose only bogey through 54 holes came Friday, turned in five of his eight birdies on the back nine to match the biggest lead through three rounds on tour this year and in the history of the tournament sponsored by FedEx.
Greg Norman led by six strokes going into the final round of the Masters in April before losing. In Memphis, Dave Hill (1967) and Ray Floyd (1982) each led by five strokes and went on to win.
Cook’s second birdie on the par-4, 427-yard No. 6 put him four strokes up on Adams at 19-under before Adams pulled back with his own birdie on No. 7.
Cook saved par on No. 10 after driving into a bunker, then strung together four birdies starting with No. 11 and including No. 13, where he nearly holed out his second shot.
A 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3, 223-yard No. 14 closed his birdie run and moved him five strokes ahead.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Top cards Record 54-hole scores in an official PGA Tour event, with player, scores by round, event, and course: 189 - John Cook, 64-62-63, 1996 St. Jude Classic, Tournament Players Club at Southwind 191 - Gay Brewer, 66-64-61, 1967 Pensacola Open, Pensacola Country Club 191 - Johnny Palmer, 65-62-64, 1954 Texas Open, Brackenridge Park Golf Course
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