Sunday, November 25, 2007

indian wells golf course

Indian Wells, CA (Sports Network) - Stephen Ames drained a seven-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday to successfully defend his title at the Skins Game, which was contested on the Celebrity Course at Indian Wells Golf Resort.

The closing birdie was worth eight skins and $625,000. Ames finished with nine skins and $675,000.

"Standing over the putt on 18, I felt a little nervous, so I had to go back to some of the things I've done in the past - focus on my breathing and stuff," Ames admitted. "I made a great putt, and it went right in the middle of the hole, exactly where I saw it. It's not quite the Masters, but it's $675,000."

Fred Couples, a five-time winner of this event, won the other nine skins and $325,000. Skins Game rookies Brett Wetterich and Master champion Zach Johnson were shut out.

"I certainly enjoyed the experience and playing with these three guys," said Johnson. "It's a very unique event, it's nothing like I've ever been familiar with. Alongside that, I've very disappointed."

"I enjoyed myself out there today. I had a lot of fun, kind of goofing around," stated Wetterich. "I wish I could have played a little bit better, maybe made a few more birdies."

At the 18th, all four players found the fairway off the tee. Ames played first and dropped his second seven feet from the cup. Couples' approach stopped 20 feet from the hole before Wetterich knocked his second to 10 feet and Johnson spun his approach back some 40 feet away.

Johnson rolled his birdie putt past the right edge, then tapped in for par. Couples missed left and tapped in for par. Wetterich just missed on the left edge clearing the way for Ames.

Ames poured in his birdie putt to become the fifth repeat winner.

"It was a hard nine-iron in there," explained Ames. "I hit a great shot. It was probably one of two shots that I hit solid all day. But that is the Skins Game isn't it."

Couples looked as though he would win the title for the sixth time as he got off to a spectacular start. He pulled his drive left off the 10th tee, but hit a stellar approach to five feet.

Ames, Wetterich and Johnson all had birdie putts to try to put pressure on Couples. However, all three missed those chances. Couples drained his birdie putt to collect six skins and $250,000.

Wetterich nearly holed his second at the 11th, but settled for a tap-in birdie. Couples sank an eight-footer for birdie and the halve. Couples and Johnson halved the par-three 12th.

Couples again had a chance to win the 13th. Wetterich and Johnson missed the green, while Ames had 15 feet for birdie. He could not convert, leaving Couples an eight-footer for birdie and three skins. Couples missed his putt too.

Johnson was the only one in the fairway off the tee at the par-five 14th, but he left his second shot short in a bunker. Ames found a bunker off the tee, then played down the fairway with his second.

Ames knocked his third inside two feet. With Couples and Wetterich scrambling, it was up to Johnson to pressure Ames. Johnson blasted out of the sand to seven feet and he drained the birdie putt. Ames kicked in his short birdie effort for another carry over.

Couples ran home a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th, but he was unable to pick up the winning skins as Johnson drained a 12-footer to halve the hole.

Ames had the best shot to win the 16th, but he could not convert from seven feet. After the other three players played their third shots, Couples had a chance to win the 17th, but his 20-foot birdie try missed just right of the hole.

"I won the 10th today, which was a big win, and I just couldn't really win another hole," Couples said. "Zach made a great putt on 15, or I made a great putt to tie him, however you want to look at it." INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Nov. 25 ― Impervious to the whims of style, the ravages of time and even global warming, Fred Couples is still as cool as a fall morning in the desert. This has always been one of golf's sure things, and it remains unchanged. Only one thing in life can make Couples sweat, and Sunday his oft-injured back felt good enough to prevent any beads from popping out on his brow.

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L.P.G.A. | Champions European This is a good thing, of course, for golf and for Couples, 48, who has been sidelined from competition since April. That was when, after playing through excruciating back pain while making the cut in the Masters, he was forced to put up his clubs until a few weeks ago. Sunday, as he stood casually on a mound left of the 10th fairway at the Indian Wells Resort, preparing to hit his second shot on the final nine holes at the Skins Game, it was almost as if he had never left.

People leaned over the balconies and stood on the roof of the adjacent Hyatt Grand Champions hotel to watch as Couples surveyed the ball sitting atop the Bermuda rough. He delivered a shot worth watching, too, one of many he produced over the course of the two-day event. With a $250,000 carry-over skin on the line, Couples hit a tight draw from 158 yards to within 5 feet. He won the skin with a birdie, giving him four in two days for a total of $325,000 and the lead over the defending champion, Stephen Ames, and the Skins rookies Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.

Ames was laughing and applauding in the middle of the fairway. "Great shot, great shot," he said, quickly adding, "Hitting fairways is overrated."

It certainly was in the Skins Game, as Ames became aware and as Johnson, the Masters champion who missed only one fairway, found out. It was more about hitting the right fairway at the right time and making the right putt at the right time, as Ames did on the first and last holes. Ames's first skin Saturday was worth $25,000 and his last Sunday was worth $650,000, giving him the victory over Couples and shutting out Johnson and Wetterich.

"It's really just potluck," said Couples, known as "The Skins King" for the more than $4 million he has won in 14 Skins Game appearances. "If you win the right holes, you win money."

Couples's success stems from his acceptance of the vagaries of the Skins Game format.

"You don't come into these things looking to win them," he said.

Never has that been truer for Couples. He came into this event looking to hit some good shots, to shake off the rust, to test his back and to see what would happen to his swing when the red light came on the TV camera.

The answers he got were somewhat encouraging. Although he said afterward, "I didn't really play any better than anybody else," he did. Had their actual scores been kept, Couples would have finished with a six-under-par 65, three strokes better than Johnson's 68 and seven better than Wetterich's 72.

Ames was three under for 17 holes, but took an 'X' on the 15th hole when he hit his drive in a flower bed and picked up. He took a double bogey to finish with a 71. More important than the score were the quality of the shots Couples hit during the two days.

While he acknowledged that the skins format is "hit and giggle," that does not mean he was not trying. When he was in his prime a little more than a decade ago, Couples was among the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, often going weeks without missing a shot. Other players would ask, only half joking, "Have you ever actually missed a shot?"

So to come into a competition as the featured draw having hit few shots recently was a little unnerving, even for the most unflappable of golfers.

"At first, I was a little hesitant because I have not played," Couples said earlier this week, "and it took, you know, a good couple days to ask a few people if they wanted to see my mug again. A couple people said, 'Of course.' So I decided to play."

Play he did. He averaged 299 yards on 14 drives, most of which hit the fairway. His only big miss with the driver came Sunday at the 14th hole, where he pulled his drive under a palm tree and was forced to try to hit a severe cut with a 3-wood. A shot he pulled off. By and large, his trajectory was good, and he hit one 3-wood ― a 253-yard cut to 15 feet at the 12th hole ― that should have been framed.

Then there was the eagle he made by holing out from the bunker Saturday at No. 4. It was definitely not a fluke. Couples flayed his sand wedge on a slight downhill lie from 35 yards, dropped the ball softly on the green 35 feet from the hole and watched as it rolled like a putt and fell in.

It appears his recent work with Butch Harmon has been bearing fruit. He shot a 60 last Friday at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, tying the course record held by Tiger Woods. He said he would play in the Shark Shootout on Dec. 5-9, then see how his back holds up after continued work with the specialist John Patterson, who also works with the Houston Rockets' Tracy McGrady.

For now, Couples dispassionately evaluates his progress by saying: "I came here without too many expectations and I feel like it turned out all right. I hit a few pathetic shots, but had decent control of my golf ball most of the time
Clark-designed Celebrity Course opened for public play on Nov. 1, 2006. The par-72, 18-hole, championship golf course is the first of two new golf courses to be built at the Indian Wells Golf Resort .

The reachable par-5 14th plays only 519 yards from the tips.The City of Indian Wells supplied Clark with the original West Course property plus an additional 30 acres, but the Celebrity Course is far from a renovation, as all of the golf holes are completely new with only a couple that could be considered vaguely familiar.

Clark did, however, utilize many mature trees found on the original property to impart the feel of a venerable facility while at the same time delivering a modern approach to golf course design.

"I appreciate the opportunity to design this golf course, and I'm quite pleased with the finished product," said Clark. "From the onset, I was given the liberty to be creative, and that led to 18 truly unique golf holes."

Most of the holes are oriented north/south to take advantage of views of the San Jacinto, Santa Rosa and San Bernardino mountain ranges, and an Indian Wells icon, Eisenhower Mountain, stands sentinel to the south. Wildflowers that cover the out-of-play areas as well as the areas encircling the green complexes create a colorful backdrop.

As a "core golf" layout, roads and homes do not intrude into the playing field, and each hole is designed to be somewhat sheltered from the others to elicit a feeling of solitude. The golf course's seven water features -- waterfalls, creeks and ponds -- come into play, and are designed to have both aesthetic and strategic appeal.

Clark moved nearly 320,000 cubic yards of earth in the process of building the Celebrity. Large mounds that flank many of the golf holes effectively increase the landing areas. Shots slightly off-line tend to kick back into play, while shots well off-line bounce off the backside of the mounds away from the fairway and generally into trouble.

More Information
Indian Wells Golf Resort: Official Site
Clark's use of bunkers places a unique stamp on the golf course. Many of the bunkers form the high point of a larger sweeping contour, and they are located in-play for tactical consideration and out-of-play for visual appeal. In many cases the bunkers are pitched towards the golfer exposing the green fingers of grass that jut into them.

The Indian Wells Golf Resort has been a popular golf travel destination for nearly 20 years offering two golf courses and four hotel/resorts. The City of Indian Wells, owner of the golf resort, decided to bolster the golf resort's reputation by embarking on a $55 million project.

The opening of the Celebrity Course marks the first step, and the new John Fought-designed Player's Course -- along with the new 53,000 square foot Douglas Fredrikson-designed clubhouse -- will follow in November 2007.

Photos: From the course
Photos: LG Skins Game
"We're very pleased to be opening the new Celebrity Course," said Roger Behling, Golf Resort Director for the City of Indian Wells. "The golf course turned out exceptionally well, and we're excited to put it on display."

The Golf Resort at Indian Wells is managed by OB Sports Golf Management which currently manages 29 premier golf facilities throughout the United States and Mexico.

"I've been in the golf business long enough to know that the Celebrity Course is going to be something special," said Orrin Vincent, C.E.O. and founder of OB Sports Golf Management , the management company overseeing the construction management and operations for the Indian Wells Golf Resort. "We are excited to be a part of the transition to the new golf facilities, and personally I'm chomping at the bit to play the golf course."


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