Fred Couples turned 50 in October, and he could not have picked a better Champions Tour event to make his debut.
The “King of the Skins” will be playing in the Champions Skins Game in Hawaii on Jan. 16-17, joining a Hall of Fame cast that includes Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price.
While the original Skins Game held over Thanksgiving weekend has been canceled, the 50-and-older version lives on in paradise at Royal Kaanapali. The total purse is $770,000, and it features two-man teams playing alternate shot.
Couples turned the Skins Game into an annuity. He played 14 times and earned $4.183 million. In 585 official events on the PGA Tour, he made $21.319 million.
“I could not think of a better way for me, personally, to start on the Champions Tour than to play in this format and have the chance to hang out with this group of players,” said Couples, who will be paired with Nick Price.
Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw will try to become the first team to repeat in the Champions Skins Game, and Zoeller will be going for his third straight title; he played with Peter Jacobsen in 2007.
Nicklaus and Watson will be teammates again, and the fourth team is Gary Player and Loren Roberts.
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AWOL AT THE LPGA: Ever since the “Tour Championship” was introduced into golf’s vernacular in 1991, the very name of the tournament suggests an elite field.
That wasn’t the case last week on the LPGA.
For starters, organizers decided to expand the season finale to 120 players. If not for rain that forced a 54-hole tournament, there would have been a cut to 70 players after the second round, and to the top 30 after the third round. By turning it into a full field, the LPGA Tour at least was giving some players an additional start.
However, it was difficult to ignore the number of players who didn’t show up – not only players who were among the top 120, but 16 alternates. The LPGA Tour does not disclose why a player withdraws, so it’s unclear how many were due to injury or travel plans.
Even so, the tour had to go down to No. 156 on its money list to fill the field in Houston.
That would be Jeehae Lee, a rookie who graduated from Yale three years ago. In the 16 tournaments Lee had played going into the LPGA Tour Championship, she made only one cut – a tie for 57th in Phoenix. Lee broke 70 only once all year and had made $3,989.
She recorded her best finish in Houston – a tie for 55th – and earned $4,197.
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CAREER MONEY: As many as seven players could be taking an exemption from the career money list to keep their PGA Tour cards.
Brad Faxon (No. 37) and Corey Pavin (No. 48) already have notified the tour they will take a one-time exemption for being among the top 50 in career earnings.
The tour is waiting to hear from two players who already have used a one-time exemption from the top 25 in career money and still have the top 50 option – 50-year-old Tom Lehman (No. 21) and Chris DiMarco (No. 22).
Stuart Appleby (No. 15) expects to decide in the next few weeks whether to use his first career-money exemption or try to get by on sponsor exemptions and his conditional status.
Jesper Parnevik is No. 46 in career money and entered in the final stage of Q-school. He likely will use his exemption if he fails to make it through Q-school or is ranked low coming out of Q-school. Tim Herron (No. 42) also is in the final stage of Q-school and could lean on his exemption if he doesn’t make it.
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THE TIGER CHART: Tiger Woods had not been to Australia in 11 years, giving him the occasion to set the record straight on that chart of Jack Nicklaus he had taped up in his bedroom as a kid.
“People have kind of exaggerated the record list,” Woods said.
He said it contained only four or five items and was more of a timeline – when Nicklaus took up golf, when he first broke 40, when he won his first junior event, his first U.S. Amateur and when he turned pro.
“It was just a benchmark for me growing up that here’s the greatest player of all time and this is what he did when he was 13, 17, 18,” Woods said. “As a junior, you’re always trying to compare yourself to, ‘When did he do it?’ And hopefully, I can do something a little bit better and maybe that might springboard myself into having a good career.
“It has turned out OK.”
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NATIONWIDE AND Q-SCHOOL: For those heading to Q-School next week: Consider what the future might hold.
Eight players who were in Q-school a year ago finished among the top 125 to keep their PGA Tour card, including PGA champion Y.E. Yang and Jason Dufner, the only two from that group who reached the Tour Championship. The average position on the money list for those eight players was 82.375, with Yang skewing the statistics at No. 10 on the strength of two victories.
Ten of the 25 players from the Nationwide Tour kept their card, with only of them – Marc Leishman – advancing to the Tour Championship based on two good weeks outside Boston and Chicago. The average position on the money list for Nationwide grads was 86.8.
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DIVOTS: Americans won only five of the 27 events on the LPGA Tour schedule this year. … The U.S. Open has been a sellout the last 23 years, although this year remains a challenge. The USGA is offering a promotion in which anyone who buys tickets before Dec. 14 will receive a gift set – a ball marker and divot tool – to wrap in time for the holidays. Tickets would not be mailed until May. … Rory McIlroy moved to No. 10 in the world with this third-place finish in Dubai. He joins Sergio Garcia as the only 20-year-old players to reach the top 10 in the world. Tiger Woods did not get there until he was 21, and then he never left. … The PGA Tour has signed an eight-year deal with Sky Sports to broadcast its tournaments live in the United Kingdom. The tour had left Sky for Irish-based Setanta until that network filed for bankruptcy protection in June.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: Europe has six players among the top 10 for the first time since the world ranking began in 1986.
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FINAL WORD: “What’s he got going for him? Twenty years old. Millionaire already. Hits it miles. Nice-looking girlfriend. Drives a Lamborghini. Yeah, it’s hard, isn’t it?” – Lee Westwood on Rory McIlroy.