Couples Sets Skins Records

Fred Couples earned a huge payday and a new nickname.

"Freddy is `Mr. Skins,' or even better, Fred `Skins' Couples," Mark O'Meara said, laughing.

Couples, already the leading money-winner in the history of the Skins Game, added $635,000 to his earnings this weekend. His haul included a one-hole record $410,000 for winning the final hole.

He joined O'Meara, David Duval and Sergio Garcia in the four-player field as a replacement for Payne Stewart. Couples pledged 30 percent of his earnings to the Payne Stewart Memorial Fund, honoring his friend who died in an Oct. 25 plane crash.

O'Meara won $245,000, Garcia $120,000 and Duval zero.

Couples again proved ideally suited for this format in which horrible play on some holes can be offset by good shots and big putts at the right time.

Couples did just that on No. 18. He pulled his drive to the left and the ball wedged into a shrub, 6 inches off the ground. But a recovery shot to the fairway, a fine 4-iron within 15 feet of the pin and a birdie putt left Couples with riches for the hole and his third Skins Game title.

"There's a lot of luck involved," he said. "Going down to that last hole, I hit it into the shrub, and I still wind up winning the biggest skin. That's luck."

Couples made nine birdies over the two days and won 11 skins, both records in the event that began in 1983. He ran his total earnings to $1,975,000 in seven appearances, the equivalent of seven rounds of golf.

O'Meara, the 1998 Skins Game champion with $430,000, finished second this year with five skins.

Garcia, the 19-year-old Spaniard and youngest player ever in the Skins Game, had two skins. He missed a 10-foot birdie try on No. 18 that would have sent the tournament into extra holes and kept $620,000 on the table for the players to shoot for.

Garcia called his first Skins Game a "great experience," adding, "I was disappointed I didn't make a few more putts."

O'Meara added: "We are, too, especially on 18."

David Duval, playing his second Skins Game, was blanked for the second time.

"Nobody helped me out," said Duval, whose game was inconsistent and whose birdie putts did nothing more than tie holes. "I wish I'd won some skins, but that's just the nature of it. I don't worry about it."

Couples, who won two holes for five skins and $125,000 Saturday, began the second day by adding $100,000 with a 2-foot birdie putt at No. 10.

O'Meara won $170000 with a curling, 40-foot birdie putt at No. 13. Garcia collected $70,000 with a 2-foot putt birdie at No. 14, then the pot built until Couples struck it rich on the final hole.

After Couples hit into the bush on No. 18, O'Meara hit his second shot into a fairway bunker. Duval ruined his chance by hitting his 3-wood at the par-5, 563-yard hole into the water.

With the other three in trouble, Garcia appeared in great shape to win the rich hole and the championship. But he hit his second shot into the shallow trap off the right side of the green, leaving him pin-high about 40 feet from the flag.

However, his shot out of the sand tailed off to the left and he missed the putt, with Couples making his to end it.

In the Skins Game format, prize money at stake on each hole. A player wins the money if he wins the hole (the "skin") outright. But if two or more players tie a hole, all are considered tied and the money is carried over to the next hole, with the money building until one player wins a hole.

The first six holes of the Skins Game were worth $25,000 each, the next six worth $50,000 each, and Nos. 13-17 worth $70,000 each, leading to a $200,000 "super skin" at No. 18.

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