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Stewart Finally Shakes Daly in Skins Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the ninth annual $540,000 Skins Game finally ended Sunday, John Daly was still talking about the honor of playing with Jack Nicklaus, whom he reverently helped shut out on his way to winning rookie acclaim here at PGA West. But it was the other Skins rookie who won the most money, the most skins and the championship in the final day of play on the Stadium Course.

Dressed in his trademark NFL garb--this day in support of the Washington Redskins--Payne Stewart was finally able to shut down the aggressive Daly for at least one hole to win eight skins and $260,000. Despite hitting into the water twice in nine holes, Stewart played the most consistently and came out the winner when he sank a 3 1/2-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to win the most money ever won on a single hole and the second-most money Stewart has won in a single event.

“Funny thing about the Skins Game, I played well today and except for the shot I hit on 17, I was three under par--I just kept getting capped,” said Stewart, who had not played in this event before.

Daly haunted Stewart through the final holes Saturday and the early holes Sunday, matching some of Stewart’s great shots with those of his own. Just when Stewart thought he had a chance for a skin, there came Daly, who had shut out all the players Saturday by winning six skins and $120,000.

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“I think it’s important to get a skin early, it frees you up,” Stewart said. “After I got that skin--granted it was for $260,000--my feet got lighter and the swing got freer and I’m sure John felt the same way yesterday.”

Stewart and Daly left the course with the heaviest wallets. Daly won a skin, $40,000 and a car on the second playoff hole against Curtis Strange when he sank a two-foot putt for par on the infamous 17th hole, a 166-yard par three named Alcatraz because the green is surrounded by water. It gave Daly seven skins, $160,000 and three cars for both days.

“A year ago I was right here (at PGA West) at qualifying school playing the other course, grinding it out, trying to get my (tour) card,” Daly said. “So I think this was a big step.”

Strange, defending champion the past two years, won three skins Sunday by sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole worth $120,000 and two cars.

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Nicklaus came up empty for the first time since 1986. His best opportunity for a skin came on the 18th hole, but his five-foot birdie putt broke left and missed, setting up a playoff for the final skin.

Nicklaus and Stewart were eliminated after the first playoff hole (the 10th) when their drives landed in the water. Strange and Daly tied the hole and advanced to the second playoff hole, which Daly won.

“It’s not a lot of fun to play the way I did today,” Nicklaus said. “It’s a very humbling game. We’ve all been a part of that. You finish up and everybody beats you. So you go home and cut your wrist and somebody says, ‘How about playing tomorrow at 9 a.m.? And you say, ‘OK.’ ”

With slight winds, play opened on the 10th hole with a $90,000 carryover from Saturday, making it worth $120,000. In the skins format, the first six holes are worth $20,000, the next six $30,000 and the final six $40,000. A player needs to win a hole outright or the money is carried over.

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With ties on the first two holes, it looked as if Stewart had $180,000 and six skins wrapped up on the 12th hole, a 360-yard par four. Stewart, driving after Strange, hit Strange’s ball, knocking it out of a divot. According to the rules, Stewart’s ball was left in the divot and Strange got to take a drop.

It seemed a bad break for Stewart, until he hit a nine-iron 105 yards over a moat bordering the green to within inches of the cup. But then Daly hit a wedge shot that was even an inch closer to the cup than Stewart’s ball.

So up for grabs on the 14th hole--a 390-yard par four--was $260,000, a car and eight skins. Stewart, in the best position on the fairway, hit a nine-iron 136 yards to 3 1/2 feet from the pin. So far in the day, Nicklaus had been in the sand four times and the water once. He hit his drive on No. 14 in a bunker and made a great shot to the green but missed a 23-foot putt by inches.

Daly crushed his his drive 335 yards to a grassy swell that left him a short wedge from the green. He hit past the pin about 20 feet and missed his putt by inches.

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Waiting on the green, Strange missed his 12-foot birdie putt, leaving Stewart standing over a 3 1/2-foot putt worth $260,000. The most money he had made in a single event was $270,000, at the Nabisco in 1989. Finally, with no Daly to stop him, he won the hole.

“I had a free run from four feet and just played it inside the right and told myself to make a good solid stroke, and it went in,” Stewart said.

Daly continued to delight the gallery, which even cheered his practice swings. For example, on the 16th hole, which played 533 yards Sunday, Daly hit his drive 100 yards past Nicklaus’ tee shot, 60 yards past Strange’s and 40 yards past Stewart’s. Television commentators said Daly’s drive traveled 360 yards, but it was officially 327 yards.

“In recent years a lot of people have been (touted) as being the next Nicklaus,” Nicklaus said. “But I don’t see any reason for John to be the next me. He should be himself, and I think he is doing a good job of being himself.

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“He’s come on the scene with a lot of pressure on him. That is part of the price today of playing well.”


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