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Couples Sneaks In to Win Second Straight Skins Title

December 1, 1996

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) _ Fred Couples sounded almost apologetic.

After mostly watching as Tiger Woods and Tom Watson matched birdie putts and raised the stakes, Couples sneaked in with an 7-foot birdie putt Sunday to win $240,000 on the richest hole of the 1996 Skins Game.

Couples’ game wasn’t great, but his timing was.

``I feel very lucky,″ said Couples, who ended up $280,000 richer as he won his second consecutive Skins Game. ``Tiger and Tom tied every hole, played real well, and kept building and building (the money), then I made a putt.

``A regular tournament, I probably would have barely made the cut over the two days. Here, I walk away with $280,000.″

His dramatic putt on No. 15, with the money, or skins, carried over from six holes, added to the $40,000 Couples won the first day.

Watson, at 47 the senior member of the foursome and 27 years older than Woods, played the best golf of the competition. After the final three holes of regulation and one playoff hole were tied, Watson made a 6-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole for $120,000, giving him a $220,000 paycheck for the two days.

Woods, whose presence sparked a big jump in the TV audience for an event that had been fading with age, earned $40,000 by winning one hole on Saturday.

The first day’s telecast hit 8.2 in the overnight ratings, 74 percent higher than a year earlier, a Skins official said.

``It was a blast,″ Woods said. ``I needed to putt better. On 18, I had that putt (a 12-foot birdie try) to win it, and I just didn’t make it. ...

``One thing I learned is that these are great guys. It’s amazing how, playing golf together for a few hours, you get to know a guy so much better.″

John Daly, the fourth player in the event, outdrove Woods most of the time in the matchup of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters. But Daly’s putting touch and confidence were shaky, and he won no holes and no money.

On the final regulation hole, Daly had only to make a 5-footer for birdie and $120,000, but he jerked the putt to the left. He immediately picked up the ball, put it back on the same spot, and missed again.

Earlier, he misfired on an 8-foot on No. 15 to give Couples the chance he needed.

``At least I was consistent _ I didn’t make one putt,″ said Daly, who is wrapping up what has been a forgettable year of golf for him.

Couples also had a big payday on one hole in the Skins a year ago. He sank a 10-foot birdie putt to win his only hole, worth $270,000, and beat Corey Pavin out on the fifth playoff hole.

This time, after Watson and Woods tied the ninth hole with birdies on Saturday, the $80,000 at stake there carried over to the second day. The first five holes Sunday were tied, and the prize money mounted until Couples cashed in on the par-4, 338-yard 15th.

Woods and Daly tried to drive the green, a dogleg left protected by a lake down the left side. Woods hit in the rough on the right, then couldn’t get his second shot onto the green. Daly’s tee shot was straight, but 10 yards short of the green.

Playing it safe, Couples hit a 3-iron off the tee straight down the fairway, leaving him about 100 yards to the pin. He hit a wedge, and the ball dropped down in close birdie range.

Daly missed his putt. Couples’ putt began breaking to the left, but was dying as it caught the left side of the hole and spiralled into the cup.

With $1.19 million in his five Skins Game appearances, Couples became the first $1 million winner in the 14-year history of the event.

Watson, who won the first hole of the inaugural Skins Game back in 1983, ended the 1996 renewal with his six-figure putt in the playoff, on the 10th hole at Rancho La Quinta. Woods had the best chance of the other three to make a birdie, but he pulled his 20-footer.

``I’m really happy,″ Watson said. ``I made a lot of money.″

The first six holes were worth $20,000 each, the next six $30,000 and the last six $40,000. The low scorer wins a hole, a ``skin,″ and the prize money. If at least two players tie, that money carries over to the next hole and all four players are back in the hunt.

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