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Couples wins big bucks

Fred Couples won the American Skins Game on Sunday with a birdie worth $420,000 at No 18, the richest hole in the history of the event, held in Indio, California.

Fred Couples won the American Skins Game on Sunday with a birdie worth $420,000 at No 18, the richest hole in the history of the event, held in Indio, California.

Already the all-time leading money-winner in the Skins Game, a four-man, made-for-television event, Couples earned a total of $635,000 and 11 "skins" over the weekend, both also records for the 18-hole event.

He was a late entry into the foursome, replacing his friend, the late Payne Stewart. Couples pledged 30 percent of his earnings to the Payne Stewart Memorial Fund, honoring the popular player who died in an 25 October plane accident.

Couples made nine birdies over the two days, also the most since the tournament began in 1983, in winning the title for the third time. He ran his total earnings to $1,975,000 in seven appearances, the equivalent of seven rounds of golf.

Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Skins Game champion with $430,000, finished second this year with $245,000 and five skins. Sergio Garcia, the 19-year-old from Spain who was the youngest player ever in the tournament, won $120,000 and two skins.

David Duval, playing in his second Skins Game, was shut out for the second time.

Couples, who won two holes for five skins and $125,000 Saturday, began Sunday by adding $100,000 with a half-meter (2-foot) birdie putt at No. 10.

After O'Meara won $170,000 with a curling, 12-meter (40-foot) birdie putt at No 13 and Garcia collected $70,000 with a half-meter (2-foot) birdie at No 14, the pot built until Couples' won all the rest of the money with his birdie at the final hole.

Couples pulled his drive off the fairway and into a shrub on the left side, with the ball wedged 15 centimeters (6 inches) off the ground in the foliage. O'Meara essentially took himself out of it when he hit his second shot into a fairway bunker, and Duval ruined his chance by hitting his 3-wood at the par-5, 563-yard (515-mete) hole into the water in front of the green.

Garcia, however, appeared in great shape to win the rich hole and the championship, hitting his second shot into the shallow trap off the right side of the green, leaving him pin-high and about 12 meters (40 feet) from the flag.

Meanwhile, Couples had pitched out of the bush and into the fairway, 208 yards (190 meters) from the green. He then hit a 4-iron within 4 1-2 meters (15 feet) of the pin. Garcia's shot out of the trap gave him a 3-meter (10-foot) birdie try, but he missed. Couples then confidently rolled his putt into the cup to win the hole and the tournament.

In the Skins Game format, there is 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 prize 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 up to a $200,000 "super skin" at No 18.