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Couples leads after first day of Skins Game with three skins

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Fred Couples knows one good shot can
make a huge difference in the Skins Game.

After bouncing his drive off a spectator's bag and into the
fairway and hitting his second shot into a bunker behind the green,
Couples knocked his 35-yard shot out of the sand and into the hole
to win $75,000 on Saturday.

"I don't think I played particularly well, but I did hole a
shot," he said after taking the first day lead in the LG Skins
Game.

His eagle on the par-5, 501-yard fourth hole was worth three
skins because the previous two holes were tied.

"He got rewarded for hitting a great shot," defending champion
Stephen Ames said.

The 48-year-old Couples hadn't played competitively for almost
eight months because of back trouble.

"I'm very rusty, but excited to play," he said.

Ames was the only other player to win a skin over the first nine
holes of the two-day, 18-hole event. He picked up $25,000 by making
a 6-footer for birdie on the first hole.

Skins Game rookies Zach Johnson, this year's Masters champion,
and Brett Wetterich were shut out.

"I think Zach and I are just waiting for the next nine holes;
that's when all the big money comes up," Wetterich quipped.

The players usually are more relaxed on the first day of the
tournament, joking and laughing, but things tend to get quieter
when the big money is at stake on the second day.

Ames, a naturalized Canadian citizen, provided some fun on No. 9
when he pretended he was going to putt with a hockey stick. Couples
joined in, waving his putter to challenge the hockey player.

Johnson said he didn't feel he needed to provide any levity.

"My wife says I'm not funny, so the pressure's off," he said,
smiling.

He had several putts rim out of the cup, often shaking his head
and grimacing.

The made-for-TV event is in its 25th year, and Couples is
playing for the 14th time. He's the five-time tournament champion
and has won 89 skins and more than $3.9 million, all topping the
Skins Game list.

Most of the prize money remained up for grabs because the other
five holes were tied on the first day. When the foursome tees off
on No. 10 Sunday, that hole alone will be worth $270,000, and
$900,000 of the $1 million purse will be at stake.

Couples' shot out of the sand was the highlight on a day when
none of the four played especially well, at times making the
relatively short, new course at Indian Wells Golf Resort resemble a
grueling U.S. Open layout.

Players are more aggressive in skins competition, not bothering
to lay up shots in front of the green because they realize a par
usually won't win a hole. That strategy sometimes leads to more
shots straying into the rough or sailing beyond the pin.

"It was a little different scene out there for all of us,
bombing drivers," Couples said. "In a regular tournament, you'd
be doing different things. I changed some shots and hit some really
pathetic shots."

When his bunker shot dropped on what seemed almost its final
turn, Couples raised his arms in celebration, then added a brief
end zone-type hip wiggle in the sand.

As Couples walked onto the green, some fresh bounce in his step,
Johnson bowed to him a couple of times, honoring the player known
as "King of the Skins."

The first six holes are worth $25,000, and Nos. 7-12 $50,000
apiece. The 13th through 17th carry a prize of $70,000 and No. 18
is 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. If there is a tie on the 18th, the players who tied enter
a playoff.

Couples got a bonus along with the $75,000 he won on No. 4.
Title sponsor LG had offered $50,000 in products for an eagle on
either of the two par 5s on the course.