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Couples Drives Woods to Drink

Times Staff Writer

It’s not nice to invade Mr. Couples’ neighborhood.

So Tiger Woods found out Sunday, when Fred Couples lured him through a tense four-hole playoff before Woods finally plunked his tee shot into the water on the par-three 17th hole. That enabled Couples, with a routine par, to earn his fifth career victory in the Skins Game, played this year at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta.

Couples, the all-time leading money winner in the made-for-TV competition, racked up 11 skins and $640,000 to best Woods (five skins and $310,000), Adam Scott (two skins, $50,000) and Annika Sorenstam (0 and $0).

After his victory, Couples seemed to be laying the psychological groundwork for next year’s victims.

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“I’m 45 years old -- my [best golf] days are going down,” he said. “Once you are in a playoff, the odds are with Tiger ... I don’t expect to win here; I just try to hit good shots.”

Woods was having none of it. “I’m just happy I took the king of skins to extra holes and made him work for it,” he said. “I had a chance to put a lot of heat on him and didn’t do it.”

There wasn’t a lot of heat, but there was plenty of wind on Trilogy’s back nine, making birdies hard to come by -- particularly for Sorenstam, who finished second to Couples in the 2003 Skins Game. On holes where the wind was behind her, “I was happy for the extra length,” she said, “but then I couldn’t get it close.” When the wind was in her face, that made it easier to shoot at the pin, but it also knocked down her shots and “I came up short,” she lamented.

Skins rookie Scott, who led the event after Saturday’s first nine holes, also came up empty Sunday. “I had a chance today and didn’t take it,” he said.

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Couples made it clear early that this was Freddie’s World and everyone else was just visiting. On the first hole of the day, the 446-yard par-four 10th, he sank a 27-foot birdie putt to collect $300,000 -- most of it left over from the seven holes tied on the previous day. “That gets your adrenaline going,” he said.

After the next four holes were tied, it was Woods who shot into the lead when he sent a laser-like six-iron shot to six feet from the cup and sank the birdie putt to win five skins and $310,000. All day, Woods wielded his driver -- the club that has given him the most trouble in the last couple of years -- with a length and accuracy reminiscent of his play three or four years ago.

“I have more confidence in my driver,” he said. “Plus, when you hit it in the rough here, it’s like the fairways I used to play on growing up.”

Unfortunately for Woods, the water is not so forgiving. On the 204-yard 17th -- the fourth sudden-death playoff hole (Sorenstam and Scott were eliminated after the first extra hole) -- he pulled his three-iron tee shot left and into the adjacent lake. Once Couples saw that, he knew if he played it safe and “kept the ball on land,” the hole and yet another Skins victory were his.

“I aimed to the right and tried to hammer it,” Couples said, but also wound up pulling the shot left. But the ball rarely ends up in the water for the king of skins, and it settled on the green, 25 feet from the cup. As Woods already lay four on the green, Couples calmly two-putted for par and the win.

Each player donated his winnings to charity.


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