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Putts, Records Fall for Lehman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was how to succeed in business without really sighing. Tom Lehman, who had never been in the Skins Game, played the last nine holes Sunday as if he had never been away.

Lehman threw seven birdies at Rancho La Quinta to set a record, shot a 29, finished with $300,000 and made it appear as if he didn’t even have to try too hard to do it.

The way his putts were dropping, Lehman could have been slapping the ball with his shoe and they probably still would have fallen in.

“When I putt well, I putt like this,” Lehman said. “Unfortunately, I don’t do it all that often.”

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Then you would have to say he chose a nice time to make it reappear.

Lehman, who was trying to make a living on the Hogan Tour 14 years ago when the Skins Game made its debut, can return next year as the defending champion.

Mark O’Meara, who sank a four-foot putt to win the last hole and make $100,000, finished with a total of $240,000. Tiger Woods had $60,000 and David Duval was blanked.

Lehman won three consecutive skins to set a record, birdied a record five consecutive holes and finished with 10 birdies in two days, another record. His seven birdies in Sunday’s nine holes are yet another record, and left his peers shaking their heads in unison.

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“There was nothing we could do about Tom Lehman,” O’Meara said. “He was on fire.”

Woods got so used to it that a couple of times he said ‘nice putt, nice birdie” even though Lehman hadn’t even putted yet. Woods had several chances to inhibit Lehman’s success, but couldn’t get a putt to fall. Lehman had no such problem.

“The guy went berserk out on us,” Woods said.

Lehman won $60,000 with an eight-footer at the 11th, then won $30,000 at the 12th with a five-footer, $40,000 at the 13th with a nine-footer and $40,000 at the 17th with a seven-footer.

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Other than O’Meara’s $100,000 putt, which came in a playoff at the 18th, the only lingering suspense was whether Woods could drive the 352-yard 15th (he did) and if he could reach the 584-yard 17th in two shots (he did).

Unfortunately for Woods, those were about the only highlights on his Sunday reel.

As for Duval, his highlight was basically that he finished without getting hurt. His only birdie was the fifth hole on the first day, he knocked two balls in the water, he flubbed a chip shot and he got shut out. Other than that, it was a fine weekend for Duval.

“I got to watch the other three play as well as they did and try not to hit them with one of my shots,” he said.

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Lehman compared the way he putted Sunday with his best days, like when he won the 1996 British Open and the Tour Championship. Woods said he knew the key to Lehman’s putting.

“He made every putt at a perfect pace. It’s one thing to make putts, it’s another thing to make them with perfect pace. I don’t remember seeing one putt hit the back of the hole. Every putt just kind of crawled in there.”

Lehman said once he figured out the correct speed, he knew he was going to have a good day on the greens.

“From the very first putt, I can tell. If I have the line, you can make a lot of putts. Every putt I hit went over the middle of the hole and dropped in.”

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Winner’s Circle

Skins Game champions:

1983--Gary Player: $170,000

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1984--Jack Nicklaus: $240,000

1985--Fuzzy Zoeller: $255,000

1986--Fuzzy Zoeller: $370,000

1987--Lee Trevino: $310,000

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1988--Ray Floyd: $290,000

1989--Curtis Strange: $265,000

1990--Curtis Strange: : $225,000

1991--Payne Stewart: $260,000

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1992--Payne Stewart: $220,000

1993--Payne Stewart: $280,000

1994--Tom Watson: $210,000

1995--Fred Couples: $270,000

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1996--Fred Couples: $280,000

1997--Tom Lehman: $300,000


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