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Scott Takes Early Skins Edge

Times Staff Writer

Tiger, Annika, Freddie and ... Adam?

Over its 22-year history, the Skins Game has been dominated by golfers well known enough to go by their first name alone. But in the first nine holes of the 2004 Skins Game on Saturday, Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and Fred Couples were all skinless and looking up at 24-year-old Adam Scott, perhaps the most anonymous participant ever in this made-for-TV event.

Call it Three Legends and an Unknown, but the young Australian won the only two skins -- worth a total of $50,000 -- on the front nine at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, sinking a 40-foot birdie putt on the second hole after a carry-over on the opening hole. That was the only win, as Scott held serve for the remaining seven holes, all of which ended in ties.

That means today’s back nine will be worth $950,000, and the 10th hole alone $300,000. “We’re well aware of that,” said defending champion Couples. “I’m going to have to sharpen my game -- it’s going to be a quick hit,” he added, referring to the hefty payment awaiting the first winner on the back nine.

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Sorenstam, who finished second to Couples in last year’s event, had a low-key day -- driving the ball well short of her partners and shooting herself out of several holes before even reaching the green. “The course is not too long for me to score,” she said of the 7,056-yard layout. “But I’m sitting here with probably the longest hitters in golf.... I’m obviously aware of the distance differences.”

Nevertheless, it was her five-foot birdie putt on No. 9 that kept Scott from sweeping the entire $300,000 first-day pot. “That was the first time I had putted in a few holes,” she said. “I was happy to make it.”

No one was happier about Sorenstam’s putt than Woods, who missed his own five-foot birdie attempt, putting the pressure on Sorenstam. “I kind of blew that one,” Woods said. “I felt bad [leaving Sorenstam] in that position. But she didn’t win 10 tournaments this year for nothing.”

Woods continued his recent improvement off the tee, hitting consistently long drives, only two of which did not find the fairway or light rough. Saturday, it was his putting that was spotty.

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“It was an early Christmas present on the first hole,” he said of the three-footer he missed. But on the par-three sixth, he stuck a six-iron to within five feet of the cup and matched Couples’ birdie.

Couples, as laid-back as ever, was sanguine about being shut out for nine holes for only the fourth time in 11 appearances. “There were some great ties,” he said.

It was Scott, winner of the Players Championship this year, who kept the pressure on, despite being somewhat in awe of his three famous playing partners. “I was definitely a little bit nervous making sure I could keep up,” he said.


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