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Warren Bennett

Tiger Woods top draw for Skins Game

When the Skins Game made its debut with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus trying to win holes for cash, it was an immediate hit with television viewers starved for offseason golf over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Eighteen years later, another big star is being counted on to rescue an event that in recent times has grown stale and been lost amid the Silly Season events that now clutter TV screens.

With ratings in decline, the Skins Game is doing what every tournament director dreams of being able to do -- bring in Tiger Woods to make it a must-see event once again.

Woods will share the billing for nine holes Saturday and another nine on Sunday with defending champion Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman and Jesper Parnevik.

There's little doubt who the attraction will be. Large crowds followed Woods in Friday's pro-am, while only a handful bothered to watch the other players, who were in separate groups.

``It's obviously a coup for the match,'' Montgomerie said. ``He will bring in more fans and more viewers.''

The 19th Skins Game opens at the Landmark Golf Club with two big changes.

A new rule that forces a player to, in effect, win a skin twice figures to add a bit more drama to the 18-hole event. More important, though, is the presence of Woods in the four-man field for the first time in four years.

``We're anticipating it will bounce back this year,'' said Barry Frank, an IMG senior corporate vice president who helped found the event in 1983. ``It's no secret that any tournament will do better with Tiger in it and in contention. And in a tournament like this he's always in contention.''

Woods will be a regular in the Skins Games over the next five years, thanks to a contract he signed in the summer with ABC/ESPN that guarantees him millions before he even hits a tee shot. Woods, who played in 1996 and 1997, is committed to appear in four of the next five Skins Games.

``It will be just like playing at home with buddies except this time you will not have to part with cash,'' Woods said Friday.

The colorful Parnevik will be making his Skins Game debut, and is especially eager to play.

``It should be right up my alley,'' Parnevik said. ``I do not want to say that I like to gamble, because gambling is illegal on the PGA Tour, but I love that kind of format.''

Montgomerie won $415,000 last year, but viewers mostly stayed away from a match that lacked drama on the course and the personality of Woods to liven things up a bit.

That should change this year, with $1 million available. Each of the first six holes will be worth $25,000, while the next six will be worth $50,000, and Nos. 13-17 worth $70,000. The 18th hole is worth $200,000.

All four players agreed to donate 20 percent to the victims of the New York disaster.

The new rule change will force a player who wins a skin to either win or tie for the low score on the next hole to win the money. If he fails to do either, the skin will be carried over, which figures to add to the worth of some holes.

``You like the pot to build and play for a lot of money,'' Parnevik said. ``The rule will keep the pot growing.''

Frank said the rule change was designed to help keep drama building and the audience from tuning out. That's especially important these days, when events outside the PGA Tour proliferate in November and December, making it harder for the Skins Game to stand out.

``It's been robbed a bit of its specialness,'' Frank admitted.

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