Four of the best golfers in the world hit 129 shots during the first nine holes of the Skins Game on Saturday at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, but only one will be remembered.
Annika Sorenstam, the first woman to play in the Skins Game, holed a 39-yard bunker shot on the ninth hole for an eagle to win four skins worth a first-day record $175,000 and took the lead over Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara heading into the back nine today at 8:30 a.m.
Mickelson won four skins worth $100,000, Couples won one for $25,000 and O’Meara was shut out, but everything else that happened on the front nine took a back seat to Sorenstam’s remarkable shot.
Sorenstam hit her drive into the left rough, then hit a seven wood into the bunker. Using a 54-degree wedge, she blasted out, the ball landed about 20 feet from the hole and rolled straight into the cup.
Sorenstam tossed her club in the air, hugged her caddie, Terry McNamara, then got a hug from O’Meara and a high-five from Mickelson.
“To hole a bunker shot to win skins ... it’s amazing,” Sorenstam said. “It’s Christmas early in November. I’m just thrilled. I hit it clean like a little chip shot and it just rolled perfectly and I’m like, ‘Go in,’ and I’m pretty much in shock, I must say.”
It was only the eighth eagle in the 21-year history of the Skins Game and a feat even more remarkable considering the source. Playing from the same tees as the men, Sorenstam was supposed to be at a disadvantage on par-five holes because she doesn’t hit the ball as far as her male competitors. She showed, however, that length isn’t everything.
“To overpower the golf course, you’re way ahead of the game,” Couples said. “To overpower us, you need to hole a 40-yard bunker shot.”
Moments after the shot went in, it was being hailed as the greatest shot in Skins Game history. Lee Trevino made a hole in one in 1987 to win five skins and $175,000, but this was Sorenstam’s cementing her place in history at the end of a year in which she has made plenty by crossing gender barriers.
In May, she became the first woman in 58 years to play a PGA Tour event, an appearance that vaulted her into the public eye.
“This year is turning out to be fantastic,” Sorenstam said. “I kept telling myself there is a chance to win, but I really have to play my best. I made two birdies before that just to halve the hole. The only chance for me to win was to pull something like this off.”
Sorenstam, winner of 48 LPGA Tour events, including six major championships, called the sand shot her best ever.
“Right now, it’s definitely No. 1,” she said. “I mean, I’ve hit some great shots in major championships when I’ve won them, but with all the people watching, against these guys, a tough shot like that, I think it’s the best shot. I will never forget this shot, that’s for sure.”
Early in the round, Mickelson made the best shots. He hit to within two feet on the third hole and won two skins worth $50,000 by making the birdie putt. On No. 5, he rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt, then watched O’Meara miss from five feet and won two more skins worth $50,000.
Sorenstam then stole the show. She was the only player to reach the 533-yard par-five seventh hole in two and barely missed a 30-foot eagle putt. On the ninth, she said she was trying to hit into the left greenside bunker, but the ball didn’t turn over and went into the bunker on the right, a much more difficult shot.
“You have to be in that bunker and have that shot to understand how hard it is to hole it,” Couples said. “You could be down there until [today’s] tee time and not do it.”
The previous record for Saturday money won was $150,000. Couples, O’Meara, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman and Sergio Garcia shared the record. There are nine skins worth $700,000 available on the back nine today, but it will take something pretty spectacular to match the way Sorenstam closed the front nine.
“This format lends itself to having one incredible shot overshadow the day, and that’s part of the excitement,” Mickelson said. “To have it happen on the last hole in front of everybody with the most money on the line, I thought was pretty cool. It would have been even cooler if it were me.”
Single-day tickets priced at $30 will go on sale at 6:30 a.m. at the Trilogy Golf Club gates.... Couples made his 10th Skins Game appearance, passing Jack Nicklaus for most all time. He also increased his career earnings in the Skins Game to $2.295 million, also a record.... Mickelson shot five-under 31 on the front nine, Sorenstam shot 32, O’Meara and Couples shot 33. Nobody made a bogey.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Nine Down, Nine to Go
Results from the front nine of the Skins Game at Trilogy GC in La Quinta. Participants: Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Mark O’Meara and Annika Sorenstam:
*--* Hole Low Score Winning Shot Money Skins No. 1 Couples 10-foot birdie putt $25,000 1 No. 2 Couples/Mickelson No winner -- -- No. 3 Mickelson Two-foot birdie putt $50,000 2 No. 4 Mickelson/Sorenstam No winner -- -- No. 5 Mickelson 35-foot birdie putt $50,000 2 No. 6 O’Meara/Mickelson No winner -- -- No. 7 Couples/O’Meara No winner -- -- No. 8 O’Meara/Mickelson No winner -- -- No. 9 Sorenstam 39-yard SW eagle $175,000 4 SKINS -- Sorenstam 4. Mickelson 4. Couples 1. O’Meara 0.