By Jim Gorant
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Someone make sure Fred Couples's accountant is sitting down before he reads this.

Last week an ESPN executive said of the Skins Game, the Thanksgiving weekend match in which four players square off for $1 million while offering up mind-numbing banter, "I believe it is dead in its old form. We cannot continue in the same manner." The exec, vice president of new programming at ABC/ESPN Tom Renaud, told The Desert Sun that the 26-year-old exhibition needs a bigger purse and more interesting players. "When you first looked at the Skins, with the sight of these guys making putts for more money than they made in their careers, it was something that drew interest," said Renaud, who's looking to double the purse to $2 million. Good luck. There aren't many companies out there willing to sponsor anything other than a Barney Frank fund-raiser. Last year's sponsor, LG Electronics, has already bailed, leaving the '09 event in question.

Just as big a hurdle, according to Renaud, is the field, which is made up of one sponsor exemption, the defending Skins champ, the Tour money winner and the standing Players champ. "I'm trying to tell the Tour, This is a made-for-television event... We need to put together the four best people that we can," Renaud said. He is meeting with potential sponsors and Tour officials, but if he can't assemble a package that he thinks will better last year's dismal 1.2 Sunday rating, he may simply pull the plug. If that happens, Couples, who has participated 14 times and won a record $4.2 million, may know what the rest of us feel like when we look at our 401(k) statements.

When Pat Hurst birdied the final two holes to pass Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng and win the MasterCard Classic, she added to the world No. 1's frustration in trying to achieve a career sweep of the two events in her home country, Mexico. Both the MasterCard Classic in Huixquilucan and the Corona Championship in Morelia began in 2005, and while Ochoa has won the Corona twice ('06 and '08), she's been shut out at the MasterCard. "Just to keep all the emotions down — it was hard to do it," Ochoa said of her trip down the final nine. "I mean, I really thought I had a chance." As they say at Wrigley, wait till next year.

The Transitions was a bad place to hold the lead. Jim Furyk jumped to the front with a first-round 65 at Innisbrook Resort but followed with a 78 and ended up 52nd. Second-round leaders Nick Watney and Steve Stricker also met disaster, shooting 74 and 73, respectively, on Saturday and finishing 12th and tied for fourth. Tom Lehman, looking to become only the seventh over-50 winner on Tour and in need of a seventh-place finish to earn out his medical exemption, took the 54-hole lead. But like the others, he failed to break par the next day, shooting a 75 and — say ouch along with me — tying for eighth... Former president George H.W. Bush will receive the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievment Award at a ceremony on the 18th hole of the Stadium course on May 6, the Wednesday before the start of the Players.

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