Golden Bear Back Again at Champions Skins Game

By Associated PressJanuary 12, 2007, 5:00 pm
2005 WendyWAILEA, Hawaii -- Jack Nicklaus is making a rare competitive start this weekend in the Champions Skins Game.

'Am I missing playing golf? Not really,' Nicklaus said Friday. 'I'm missing competition. Golf is my vehicle to competition. I do miss the competition.'

The Champions Skins Game, which begins Saturday, will be an opportunity to see the Golden Bear in action this year.

'If I could play decently, I would be playing (more),' he said. 'I'd love to play until I was 90, but I just don't think my body will allow me to do that.'

Nicklaus, who will be 67 on Jan. 21, is paired with Tom Watson in the two-day, 18-hole event that is being played in an alternate-shot, four-team format for the second straight year at the Wailea Golf Club's scenic Gold Course.

The eight players have combined to win 553 tournaments worldwide -- including 46 majors -- and nearly $104 million.

But Watson is pretty confident with the 18-time major winner on his side.

'It's like coming in with Nolan Ryan as your closer,' he said. 'Your pitching is kind of weak, you've got the bases loaded and no outs and you've got Nolan Ryan coming in as your closer.'

Loren Roberts and Jay Haas, who each had four wins last year on the Champions Tour, are making their first starts in the tournament.

'I've been looking forward to this ever since I found out I was invited,' said Roberts, paired with Arnold Palmer. 'Obviously for me, it's a chance to get out here and play alongside the legends of the game.'

Raymond Floyd and Dana Quigley are back to defend their title. Last year, Floyd made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole for nine skins and $410,000 to give him and Quigley a total of 10 skins and a record $510,000.

'Obviously with these seven great players, I'm the odd man out and the only way to get back here is to win and that's going to be my strategy again this year,' Quigley said.

Haas and Gary Player make up the final team.

The 71-year-old Player won the Champions Skins Game in 1986, '88, '91 and '00. He has more than 100 victories worldwide and last year shot his age or better three times.

'He's definitely the designated the captain of the team,' said Haas, who edged Roberts last season for the Champions Tour's player of the year.

The younger players will be looked to for their length, while the Hall of Famers will use their decades of experience around the putting greens.

This weekend's event will be the final time the Skins will be held on the Gold Course after a seven-year run. The contract was not renewed by Wailea.

'This tournament has been at Wailea for seven years, and has been a terrific event for the resort,' Wailea spokeswoman Luly Unemori said. 'As Wailea continues to evolve, however, the resort is looking to explore other marketing options to continue being one of the world's top golf destinations.'

The Skins Game moved to Maui after eight years on the Big Island. There's a good chance it will remain in Hawaii because of its positioning with the Champions Tour's season-opening MasterCard Championship and the Turtle Bay Championship.

'The view, the format, the total venue, the hotels, everything here is awesome,' said Floyd, who has won the tournament a record six times. 'But a lot of places on these islands I hear are great. While we'll miss it, I'm sure we'll be happy elsewhere.'

Despite being the most senior member of the group, Palmer was clearly the fan favorite during Friday's pro-am.

The 77-year-old Palmer is making his 19th appearance in 20 years and won the event in 1990, '92 and '93.

Nicklaus, who attended the BCS National Championship game on Monday, is making his 17th Skins appearance. He has claimed a record 87 skins worth $2.1 million. He last played competitive golf a month ago at the Father-Son Challenge.

'Hopefully, Tom and I will scare somebody and win a couple skins,' he said.

The four teams will compete for a $770,000 purse with the first six skins worth $30,000, Nos. 7-12 $40,000, the next five $50,000 and No. 18 $100,000.

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