The matchup of David versus Goliath was unmistakable during the third round of the Shell Houston Open.
In one corner stood Phil Mickelson – living legend, fan favorite, and after rounds of 66-67 at the Golf Club of Houston, the betting favorite to lift the trophy. Much of the crowd that showed up that day in Humble, Texas (remember, you don't dare pronounce that H) were eager to spur Mickelson toward his first win in nearly two years.
In the other corner stood Austin Cook. Who?
Fresh off his 24th birthday, Cook had nearly no status on any major tour. But he Monday qualified for the event, then surprisingly earned a spot in Saturday’s final threesome, sharing center stage with Mickelson.
The contrasts between the two were evident. While Lefty’s Tour bag was hard to miss, Cook was still rocking the stand bag he had used since his college days at Arkansas. Mickelson had Jim “Bones” Mackay on the bag, while Cook’s caddie was his younger brother, Kyle, who had flown into town only after completing some exams.
This was the part of the proceedings where Cook was supposed to fade from view, clearing the path for another Mickelson victory. But then a funny thing happened: Cook not only kept pace, but he was clearly the better player during their round together. Belting drives over 300 yards despite a modest frame, Cook turned in a third-round 70, five shots better than Mickelson, who seemed more like the player out of his element.
Cook went on to finish T-11 that week, sparking a season of unexpected success on the back of Monday qualifiers and top-10 finishes. But it all started that day in Houston, when the unheralded kid went toe-to-toe with the Hall of Famer and came out on top.