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Everybody’s a Winner at Skins Game

Times Staff Writer

Some critics can argue that at the age of 20, the Skins Game is simply another televised golf show drifting aimlessly in a sea of off-season events that now number nearly a dozen.

Or that there’s nothing quite like watching four privileged guys who have won a combined $81 million on the PGA Tour trying to divide a paltry $1 million.

Or that they’re all wearing microphones to showcase sparkling personalities and the funniest thing that happens is when a representative from Toyota has to hand over the keys to one of his company’s new cars to a guy wearing a shirt with a Ford logo on the front.

Now, that was hilarious. Anyway, the Skins Game may have reached a milestone birthday Saturday when the first nine holes were played at Landmark Golf Club, but the way things turned out, it may never have been closer to what it was supposed to be when they drew it up the first time.

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A total of 11 birdies got racked up, Tiger Woods hit a 340-yard drive on the seventh hole and everybody won money, which did wonders for peoples’ dispositions, especially Phil Mickelson’s.

“He didn’t say a word the first seven holes, then he wins one and he wore everybody out,” Couples said of Mickelson.

So Couples immediately pinned a new nickname on Mickelson.

“Chirpy,” Couples said.

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With nine more holes to play today, the accounting shows that Mickelson won $100,000, Woods and Mark O’Meara won $75,000, and Couples won $50,000.

All in all, you would have to say that the Skins Game got a facial and looked pretty good again.

Let’s start with the money. As far as the dough, it was a lot more interesting result than last year’s first day, when nobody won anything. The reason for that was the validation rule that meant a player who won a skin didn’t really win it unless he won the next hole or tied for the low score on the next hole.

The validation rule was a disaster and discarded for this year, basically because Woods didn’t like it.

“I don’t think anybody understood what was going on,” Woods said.

O’Meara started the cash flow at the par-three third, when he hit a seven-iron to two feet and made the putt for a birdie, a carry-over worth $75,000. Woods took his turn next on the par-three fifth. Woods knocked a four-iron 10 feet from the hole, rolled in the putt for $50,000 and added a birdie at the par-five sixth hole for another $25,000.

From there, the holes doubled in value to $50,000 and Mickelson collected two skins at the par-three eighth. Mickelson hit an eight-iron to four feet and made the putt to win the hole. Woods had a chance, putting first, but his 25-footer brushed past the hole.

And because he was closest to the hole, Ford-endorser Mickelson won a Toyota Avalon, which he will donate to charity.

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Couples, who endorses Cadillac, was shut out at that point and reflected on that at the ninth tee.

“I thought there would be an eagle out there,” he said. “I certainly didn’t think it would be me.”

He was wrong. His second shot on the 507-yard par-five was a five-iron from 192 yards out of the left rough and Couples stopped the ball just five feet from the hole. When his putt went in, it was worth $50,000.

The Skins Game is no longer all about money, with the possible exception of those who collect it, so it must be noted that Couples’ Skins Game total is now a record $2.15 million.

More important numbers will be the Nielsen ratings that come out next week. Last year, ABC’s two-day ratings of 4.3 were 72% higher than the all-time low of 2.5 from 2000 -- and the highest since a 4.9 in 1997 when Woods made his debut.

It would be safe to say that something in the 4s would make IMG, the people who produce the Skins Game, happy again.


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