HUMBLE, Texas – After holing one last birdie putt to end the day, Austin Cook admitted that things still had yet to sink in.
Just four days ago, the mini-tour player was teeing it up in a Monday qualifier at the Shell Houston Open, eyeing a spot in only his second PGA Tour event. After a 64 in the qualifier and two more low rounds at the Golf Club of Houston, he is now in contention for a life-changing win and has a Saturday tee time next to Phil Mickelson.
Cook, 24, birdied each of his last four holes to card a 7-under 65. At 11 under, he is tied with Mickelson in second place, one shot behind rookie Andrew Putnam.
“Oh man, it was unbelievable. It was great,” Cook said. “I’m really, really comfortable with my swing and my game right now, and it’s kind of showing.”
Cook is no stranger to parlaying Monday qualifier success into further results – he played his way into the FedEx St. Jude Classic last summer, then went on to finish T-13. He had a chance encounter with Mickelson in the locker room that week in Memphis – “We kind of spoke, but it wasn’t a formal meeting or anything,” he said – but the two will be properly introduced on the first tee Saturday.
“That’ll be pretty exciting. It’ll be awesome to get to play with him,” Cook said. “It’ll be quite a crowd, a little different than what I’ve played with the last couple of days, but I’m up for it and I’m ready for it.”
Cook graduated from Arkansas in 2013 and has conditional Web.com Tour status, but most of his golf this year has been on the Adams Pro Tour. His plans before this week called for a summer of mini-tour starts and Monday qualifiers at both Web.com and PGA Tour events.
That could all change in the next 36 holes, where a win would earn him a two-year exemption and the final spot in the field for the Masters.
“Of course coming into the week, you’re telling yourself, ‘Let’s go, let’s win this, we’ll go to Augusta next week,’” Cook said. “But now that it’s turning into be where I actually have a chance, then we need to stick to our game plan because it’s working right now.”