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Mr. Skins: Couples holds off Tiger to cash in
by Associated Press

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) - Minutes after hitting into the water to blow a chance at winning the Skins Game, Tiger Woods smiled and jokingly walked arm-in-arm down the fairway with Fred Couples.

Hey, what else can you do when you're playing Mr. Skins himself? Couples continued his amazing run in the Thanksgiving weekend tournament, prevailing in four playoff holes over Woods to claim the final three skins and $340,000, and win his record fifth Skins Game with a total of $640,000.

"I'm just happy I took the 'king of skins' extra holes," Woods said. "I made him work for it."

Couples won all his money on Sunday, starting with a birdie putt worth $300,000 and eight skins on the first hole. He finally won the tournament after Woods' tee shot went into the water on the last playoff hole, the par-3, 204-yard 17th at Trilogy Golf Club on a cold, windy day in the desert.

Couples, 45, has won a record $3,515,000 and 77 skins in 11 appearances in the made-for-TV tournament.

"It's a sweet day for me," Couples said.

"When I come here, I don't expect to win. I just expect to go out and play and hit some really good shots," he said. "I did for a couple of days and I won a lot of skins, and it just happened."

Couples, who injured his back not long after his 15th and most recent PGA Tour victory, the 2003 Houston Open, has heard all the talk that his competitive days are winding down.

"I'd love to lose today and go win the L.A. Open," said Couples, the 1992 Masters champion. "I'll be quite honest with you. That's hard to do. It's hard for me to play four really good rounds, but that's my goal. My goal is to win again."

Woods finished second with five skins and $310,000, more money than he won in his previous four Skins Games combined.

After making a sensational Skins Game debut last year, Annika Sorenstam was shut out this time. She and Aussie Adam Scott were eliminated on the first playoff hole. Scott won two skins and $50,000 on Saturday, when the first nine holes were played.

Woods' best chance to win the playoff came on the second extra hole, the 17th, when he followed a great tee shot by rolling a 10-foot birdie putt just left of the cup.

Woods struggled with his putter the whole weekend.

On the third extra hole, the par-5, 524-yard 18th, Woods left his 15-foot birdie putt short and Couples rolled his 12-footer left. Both players looked tense. A few minutes earlier, Woods angrily hit the ground with his iron after his shot from the left rough stayed left and landed in the rough just in front of the green.

Back on the 17th tee for the fourth playoff hole, Woods pushed his shot left and into the lake on the left side of the fairway. Couples played it safe for the win, hitting the green and then two-putting.

"The first time, I hit a great shot in there," Woods said, referring to the 17th. "I just misread the putt. The second time I just pulled it. I was trying to hit a nice little draw against the wind and just pulled it a little bit."

Couples also won last year's Merrill Lynch Skins Game in a four-hole playoff.

Couples jumped to a quick lead on Sunday's first hole, the par-4, 446-yard 10th, by curling in a 27-foot birdie putt worth $300,000. Of that, $250,000 was a carryover from Saturday, when Scott won the only skins.

Woods took the lead with a 6-foot birdie putt worth $310,000 and five skins on the par-4, 421-yard 15th hole, putting him $10,000 ahead of Couples.

The four holes won were the fewest in Skins Game history.

Sorenstam struggled all day. She won $225,000 in her Skins Game debut in 2003, including $175,000 with one sensational bunker shot.

"It was a really tough day, but I've enjoyed every moment of it," she said. "It just didn't work out."


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