Fuzzy Zoeller defended his Champions Skins Game title with new partner Ben Crenshaw by taking a dozen skins and US$500,000 on the back nine on Sunday to beat first-day leaders Greg Norman and Jay Haas.
Zoeller and Crenshaw finished the alternate-shot event with 13 skins worth a record US$530,000, surpassing the US$510,000 earned by Raymond Floyd and Dana Quigley three years ago at Wailea. Norman and Haas, who began the day with three skins and US$90,000, added to their total with a par on the second playoff hole for the 18th-hole “superskin” worth US$100,000.
The international duo of 73-year-old Gary Player and Champions Tour player and rookie of the year Bernhard Langer finished with one skin worth US$50,000, while teammates Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson were shutout.
It was the first time Nicklaus, making his 19th appearance, was blanked since 1998.
On a clear, warm day on Maui, no one was hotter than Zoeller and Crenshaw, a late replacement for injured Peter Jacobsen.
The 57-year-old Zoeller, who won the Masters 30 years ago, made two birdie putts within 5 feet on Nos. 12 and 17 to win US$500,000 in a span of six holes.
The big-money hole was the 421-yard 12th, where Crenshaw hit a gap wedge from 94 yards to 5 feet. After the other three teams missed their birdie tries, Zoeller calmly walked up and eyed his try with eight skins — five carried over from the first day — worth US$300,000 on the line.
“I remember the days when these were easy,” Zoeller quipped before the putt.
Zoeller drained the putt and raised his arms in the air, as a gallery packed four deep around the green roared.
Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion and 1999 Ryder Cup captain, then hit a 7-iron over the water and stuck it to about four-and-a-half feet on the 144-yard 17th.
With four skins and US$200,000 at stake, Nicklaus nearly holed a bunker shot for birdie, Langer missed a 15-footer and Haas couldn’t roll in a putt from 12 feet. Zoeller smiled and dropped his birdie try, which he said was in his “comfort zone.”
The cigarette-puffing pair of Crenshaw and Zoeller, and Player-Langer were eliminated after the first playoff hole for the final US$100,000. Nicklaus’s tee shot sailed into the water on the next playoff hole, essentially handing the check to Haas and Norman.
Just like he did so many times in years past, Player shook his fist after holing a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th, pleasing the photo-snapping, fairway-walking gallery.
Ater the putt, Player said: “How much was that, US$50,000? My father never made that in his life, working down 12,000 feet in a gold mine. So, I say ‘thank you.’”
AP, HONOLULU, HAWAII
Zach Johnson closed with a 5-under 65 on Sunday for a two-shot victory in the Sony Open, ending his two-week stay in Hawaii by playing his final six rounds in 30-under par.
Johnson, whose 64-67 last weekend at Kapalua gave him a tie for sixth, outlasted David Toms in a well-played duel along the back nine of Waialae to build a two-shot lead, then eliminated any drama with a two-putt birdie on the 18th for the second victory in his last six starts.
Tadd Fujikawa, the 18-year-old from Honolulu trying to become the youngest winner in the PGA Tour history, started the final round two shots out of the lead, but never got any closer as he struggled to a 73 and tied for 32nd.