INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Ames has won the Skins Game the past two years, so his strategy obviously works.
“You kind of let the other guys beat themselves up and then you sneak in there when you need to,” Ames said with a grin after winning $650,000 on the final hole Sunday.
He finished with nine skins, eight by winning the 18th hole, and $675,000 of the $1 million purse. Last year, he earned $590,000 to take the title.
This time, Ames won just two holes, No. 1 on the first day and No. 18 on the second.
“That’s the nature of the Skins Game,” he said.
Five-time winner Fred Couples, making his 14th appearance in the 25-year-old tournament, finished second behind Ames for the second year in a row. He added nine skins and $325,000 to push his career earnings in the made-for-TV event to more than $4.2 million.
After Couples won the 10th hole to pocket $250,000, all the holes were tied until No. 18, with the stakes building to $650,000. Ames watched the other three players miss relatively long birdie tries, then knocked his 7-footer into the center of the cup to win the hole and the championship.
“Somebody’s going to birdie the 18th hole, probably, and Stephen did it to win a big, big, big skin,” Couples said. “If you win the right holes, you win money.”
Skins Game rookies Zach Johnson, the Masters champion, and Brett Wetterich were shut out.
“I certainly enjoyed the experience and playing with these three guys,” Johnson said. “It’s a very unique event. It’s nothing like I’ve ever been familiar with.
“But when all is said and done, I’m very disappointed. I came here to win some skins, and I didn’t.”
Said Wetterich: “I just feel bad for the charity I was trying to play for. I feel worse about that than anything else.”
Each player donates 20 percent of his winnings to a charity of his choice, and Wetterich had picked Big Oak Ranch. Ames’ donation will go to the Stephen Ames Foundation, and Couples’ to California wildfires victims.
Ames, whose birdie on the opening hole of the tournament was worth $25,000, finally came up with another for the big money 17 holes later. He hit his 9-iron from 142 yards close to the pin on No. 18.
Wetterich was closest to the hole of the other three, but his 10-footer slid past the left edge.
The first six holes were worth $25,000 each, and Nos. 7-12 $50,000. The 13th through 17th carried a prize of $70,000 and No. 18 was worth $200,000. A player takes a skin by winning a hole. If the hole is tied by any of the players, the money carries over and all four remain in the hunt.
Ames won last year with a 3-footer for birdie worth $270,000 on the third playoff hole.