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Fred Couples wins Skins Game for fourth time

Annika Sorenstam earned $225,000 and a whole lot of respect with a second-place finish in the otherwise all-male Skins Game.

Fred Couples, the grand master of the skins format, won the event for a record fourth time. He collected all but $25,000 of his $605,000 Sunday, the final day of the 18-hole, made-for-television event.

``I think she played terrific golf,'' Couples said. ``I certainly didn't play better than Annika. I just made a few more putts and a couple of lucky shots.''

Phil Mickelson was third with $170,000. Mark O'Meara won nothing, one year after earning $405,000 to take the title.

``I've played with a lot of fine players,'' O'Meara said, ``and I'd have to put Annika at the top of the list.''

Couples won eight skins -- seven Sunday. Sorenstam and Mickelson had five apiece.

``I'm very glad I came. I've enjoyed it so much,'' Sorenstam said. ``It's really an honor for me to play with all three of them. They've been so great to me, and I've learned a lot this week. It really tops a wonderful year.''

All day, Sorenstam seemed to be in the middle of the fairway.

``We talked on the course about how impressed we were that every shot she seemed to hit was headed for the pin,'' Mickelson said.

He also was impressed with her distance off the tee.

``I was surprised at how far she hit the golf ball,'' Mickelson said. ``I think if she were to attempt to play the men's tour full-time -- not that she would, but if she were going to -- I don't think distance would be a hindrance for her. She hits the ball plenty long.''

Couples birdied the 17th three times, twice in a four-hole playoff to determine the winner of the par-5, 575-yard 18th. Couples clinched the title when he and Mickelson birdied the second playoff hole, the par-3 17th, and Sorenstam didn't.

But Couples and Mickelson needed two more playoff holes to end it. Couples' 20-footer for birdie, again on the 17th, added $200,000 to his day. His first time on the 17th, Couples won a $140,000 skin by sinking a 55-footer for birdie.

Couples, in his 10th Skins Game, ran his record career earnings in the event to $2.875 million.

``It's a fish bowl and pot luck,'' he said of the format. ``I feel like I can pull off any shot at any time, and if I don't it doesn't take me three holes to figure my swing out. And I think the best thing that I do, I don't get flustered.''

Sorenstam was the first-day leader with $175,000, thanks to one of the most spectacular shots ever in the game -- a breathtaking, 39-yard eagle out of the bunker on the par-5 ninth hole.

She made it two skins in a row by knocking in a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole Sunday, the par-4, 378-yard 10th.

Sorenstam was the obvious favorite of the big gallery at the Trilogy Golf Club, which opened in February. A group of girls shouted ``Go Annika'' as she walked down one fairway, and she waved and smiled in response.

``I'd love to do it again,'' Sorenstam said. ``I'm just sad that it's over. I wanted to play some more.''

On the last hole of regulation, O'Meara matched Mickelson's birdie, and that sent all four back to the 18th tee again. This time, all four missed reasonable birdie putts, including a 6-footer by O'Meara and 4-footer by Mickelson.

So all four trudged to the par-3, 226-yard 17th. This time, Sorenstam and O'Meara were eliminated when Couples and Mickelson made birdies.

Both birdied the 18th -- the third playoff hole -- and Couples was ready to split the $200,000.

``I'm gettin' tired,'' he exclaimed. ``The Presidents Cup tied!''

But it was back to the 17th to finish it off.

Couples missed short birdie putts that would have given him skins on the 12th and 13th holes, then recovered with a 25-foot birdie putt for a $240,000 skin -- the biggest of the event -- on the par-4, 412-yard 14th.

Mickelson got off to a horrible start, blasting his tee shot into the bushes to the left of the fairway on the 10th, then knocking it out of play on the third.

He recovered with a 10-foot uphill putt for birdie and a $70,000 skin on the par-3, 173-yard 15th hole.

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