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John Cook plans to ``try like hell' to finish the season as PGA Tour's best and brightest in 1992.


John Cook has gone upscale this year, and it has nothing to do with his clothing contract.

But it does have to do with his golf game.In winning more than $1 million and three tournaments, he has moved into the upper echelon of PGA touring pros. At the same time, he has positioned himself to contend with Fred Couples and Davis Love III for a variety of postseason awards - depending on the outcome of the $2 million Tour Championship this week.

Cook, 35, admittedly had played well during his 12 previous years on the tour, winning three times and pocketing more than $2 million. But then, so had a lot of other pros - which is why he approached 1992 with such a vengeance.

``I just told myself I needed to upscale some things,' Cook says. ``This was going to be a telling year. I'd had some success in the past, but I just wasn't up to the level I wanted to be.'

Cook wasted little time taking that step up, winning twice in a four-week span during January and February. Then Love and Couples began to dominate, each capturing three victories by the time the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open concluded.

But unlike Couples and Love - who have played intermittently over the past five months, Cook has played consistently and been competitive throughout the year.

Cook, for example, controlled the British Open until Nick Faldo overtook him on the final two holes and relegated him to the runner-up spot. He duplicated that tie for second at the PGA Championship a month later.

Then Cook broke through for his third win at the Las Vegas Invitational two weeks ago.

``I started well, and I could have sat back and gotten fat,' Cook says. ``But I wanted to build on it. After the British or the PGA, I didn't want to sit back and say this was a good year. I wanted to finish it out, and I did that (in winning at Las Vegas).'

Cook could go out in style, though, if he wins the $360,000 first-place prize at the Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2. He says he'll need a victory on Donald Ross' crown jewel for a chance to be voted the PGA Tour's Player of the Year by his peers.

``There's no other way around it, and to tell you the truth, I've put myself in position to do that,' Cook says.

``I'm going to try like hell. But it's not a make-or-break situation. It would be a great honor to do that, to earn the respect of your peers.

``But this has been a pretty special year already.'

To prepare for the Tour Championship, Cook took last week off to relax and plans to arrive in Pinehurst tonight. He says he didn't bring his 'A' game to No. 2 last year and finished 28th as a result.

``I want to avenge that,`` Cook says. ``You have to bring the best game that you have, or that course will make you look stupid. I looked stupid pretty much all week last year.'

Cook says No. 2 is one of his favorite courses, one he ranks with Pebble Beach, Augusta National and Olympic as representative of the best of American golf.

``I love Pinehurst No. 2,' Cook says. ``I'm glad that they've got it back in Donald Ross' plan, which is to use parts of your game we don't get to use very many times these days: imagination around the greens and in the fairways.

``You have to hit a lot of greens, and they are hard and crowned so you have to get the ball up in the air. You also have to take advantage of some of the par 5s. The birdie holes are the two shorter par-5 holes and No. 10.

The rest of the course you just have to play along, know where the trouble is and take advantage of what you can.

``To play No. 2, you have to accept what it is. You have to understand that there will be a winner at the end of the week, and it will probably be the golf course. It changes every single day.'

Cook picked Love as one of his favorites this week.

But he acknowledged that the very premise of the tournament - an elite, 30-man field of the top money winners - assures there will be many contenders.

``That's what you should do,' he says, ``get them all together, take them to America's answer to golf and let them go after it.'


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