Erratic Couples wins big money

Fred Couples, playing in place of his friend, the late Payne Stewart, sprayed shots all over the course but sank two key putts on Saturday to win $125,000 on the first day of the American golf Skins Game in Indio, California.

Fred Couples, playing in place of his friend, the late Payne Stewart, sprayed shots all over the course but sank two key putts on Saturday to win $125,000 on the first day of the American golf Skins Game in Indio, California.

Couples, who already ranked as the event's career leading money-winner with $1.3 million, added to his Skins Game bankroll by making a 1-meter (3-foot) birdie putt for $25,000 on the first hole.

After there was no outright winner on the second, third and fourth holes, Couples rolled in a 3 1-2-meter (12-foot) putt for a birdie worth $100,000 on No 5, giving him five "skins" for the day.

Couples, called on to replace for Stewart after he died in an airplane accident Oct. 25, is donating 30 percent of the money he earns in the tournament to the Payne Stewart Memorial Fund.

Sergio Garcia of Spain, at 19 the youngest player ever in the Skins Game, came up with the shot of the day, chipping in from 35 meters at No 8 for an eagle and $50,000.

To cheers from the gallery, Garcia skipped gleefully across the green after the ball bounced a couple of times and disappeared into the hole.

Mark O'Meara, last year's champion with $430,000, won $75,000 with a routine par on No 7, when David Duval, struggling all day, missed a 1-meter (4-foot) putt that would have halved the hole.

Duval, shut out in his Skins Game debut a year ago, also failed to win any holes on the first day this time.

Most of the money - $750,000 - from the $1 million purse will be at stake for Sunday's second nine holes of the 18-hole competition. That includes a $50,000 carryover from the ninth hole, for which there was no outright winner, and the $200,000 "super skin" on No 18.

Couples spent some time in the rocks and sand alongside the fairways at the Landmark Golf Club, a desert course that was completed less than a month ago. But he made up for his poor drives with his short game.

Garcia played the steadiest nine holes of the foursome, just missing two long birdie putts that would have won him skins early in the day.

In the Skins 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 share the low score on a hole, the money is carried over to the next hole, with the pot building until one player wins a hole outfright.

The first six holes of the Skins Game were worth $25,000 each, with the next six worth $50,000 each, and Nos 13 through 17 worth $70,000 each, leading up to the $200,000 No 18.

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