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Ames sinks a rich putt to defend title

After a less-than-satisfactory 18 holes, Ames hit the one that mattered.

>INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) – Stephen Ames chuckled about his mostly mediocre 18 holes of golf. He can laugh all the way to the bank.

With $650,000 at stake on No. 18, Ames coolly knocked his 7-foot birdie putt into the center of the cup Sunday to win the Skins Game. The only other hole he won was the first, a day earlier.

“That’s the nature of the Skins Game,” Ames said, his smile still as wide as it was when his rich putt dropped. “It’s always been the way you play at the Skins Game.

“You kind of let the other guys beat themselves up and then you sneak in there when you need to.”

Taking the title for the second year in a row, Ames finished with nine skins and $675,000 of the $1 million purse.

Five-time champion Fred Couples, playing in the 25-year-old tournament for the 14th time, also won nine skins, pocketing $325,000 to push his career earnings in the made-for-TV event to more than $4.2 million.

“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.”

Couples won three skins and $75,000 on the first day with a bunker shot into the hole for an eagle on No. 4, then picked up $250,000 with a 5-footer for birdie on No. 10 to begin the second day.

Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich, making their Skins Game debuts, 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.”

“I just feel bad for the charity I was trying to play for. I feel worse about that than anything else,” Wetterich said.

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 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 really big money 17 holes later. He stuck his 9-iron from 142 yards out close enough to the pin on No. 18 to give him a good chance, then watched the other three miss their considerably longer putts.

Johnson missed from 40 feet, Couples from 20, then Wetterich’s 10-footer slid past the left edge of the hole to give Ames his chance.

He stroked the ball firmly and right on line, then, beaming, he accepted his playing partners’ congratulations.

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