KAANAPALI, Hawaii (AP) — The players were rusty and the tradewinds weren’t doing them any favors in the first half of the Champions Skins Game.
Greg Norman and Jay Haas won the first three skins worth $90,000 and had the lead after nine holes Saturday, but with winds that kept players guessing and conservative, five skins were carried over to Sunday’s back nine, where $650,000 of the $770,000 purse will be up for grabs.
“Under the circumstances, I thought we actually played pretty (darn) well,” Norman said. “When you’re playing in such heavy winds, you just want to hit the ball solid.”
Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw were in second place with one skin worth $30,000, while the teams of Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson and Gary Player-Bernhard Langer were shut out on the first day of the alternate-shot event.
“There was a lot of golf course today and it got us all,” Crenshaw said. “We were all struggling.”
The 73-year-old Player had a chance to get in the clubhouse with five skins and $180,000 on the par-3 ninth, but the South African left his 30-foot birdie putt short.
“(Gary’s) got dollar signs flashing in his eyes,” Norman said.
Watson made a difficult 10-foot par putt, forcing Langer to hole a 2-footer to carry the hole, which the Champions Tour player and rookie of the year did.
The par-5 10th hole at the Royal Kaanapali Course will be worth six skins and $220,000.
“It’s getting up there where it’s getting our attention,” said Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion.
The players said the winds were completely opposite from earlier in the week, when Kona winds blew through.
“The course was tough to figure out today,” Crenshaw said. “It was really tough getting the ball close to the hole to have a good look at any of the greens.”
Zoeller said he doesn’t mind high winds, but not the “gusty stuff” that shook the palm trees and bent the flagsticks.
“You’re guessing the whole time. Any time you time you have a player guessing, it’s advantage golf course,” he said.
With two skins and $60,000 at stake on the par-5 third, Haas sank a 10-foot birdie putt to open a lead over the others. Player missed his 6-footer that would have halved the hole.
“I think we were looking to clean sweep for a while,” Haas said.
On the first hole, Haas hit a gap wedge from 78 yards to 12 feet, and Norman made the putt with his wife Chris Evert cheering him on.
It appeared Norman and Haas were going to sail into the Maui sunset with a canoe full of money until Zoeller made a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-4 fourth that drew a roar from the sun splashed, picture-snapping crowd. Zoeller unleashed a flurry of right uppercuts and even drew a congratulatory fist bump from Player.
“My caddie Mr. Crenshaw read it perfectly,” Zoeller said. “I was lucky, it went in. That’s all I can tell you.”
Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen won the tournament last year with six skins worth $320,000, all earned on the second day. Crenshaw was a last-minute replacement for Jacobsen, who withdrew because of a left shoulder injury.
Nicklaus, making his 19th appearance, struggled to find any momentum and was shut out on the front nine for the first time since 1998. The three-time winner owns 10 records, including most career skins (104) and career money ($2,430,000).
After the day, the 18-time major winner practiced chipping from about 10 feet. He doesn’t play much these days, only playing about three rounds during the holidays.
“I wanted to see if I could get it on the green,” he said.
He was still as popular as ever with the fans, including one who waved a sparkly sign that read, “Maui Loves Jack.”
“Pretty fancy,” Nicklaus told the sign holder.
“Just like you,” the female fan replied.
The elite eight playing this weekend have combined to win 568 events worldwide – including 43 majors – and nearly $108 million. They include six members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.