Mickelson Grabs Early Advantage


Phil Mickelson provided the excitement that was expected of him Saturday during the first portion of the 2002 ConAgra Foods Skins Game at the Landmark Golf Club in Indio, Calif.
And due to his efforts, he leads the way with money earned with $100,000, followed by Tiger Woods and his good buddy Mark O'Meara, both with $75,000 and three-time winner Fred Couples coming in with $50,000.
Returning to its regular format where whoever has the best score wins the hole, there was a lot more money being won compared to last year, when not a single skin was earned on Saturday. A year ago, no one could win a skin unless he validated it by having at least a share of the best score on the next hole.
So this year the 45-year-old O'Meara took advantage of the easier format by knocking in a birdie on the par-3 3rd after a beautiful iron shot to two feet. The hole was worth $75,000 and three skins after halves on the first and second holes.
After lipping out an eagle putt on the par-5th, Tiger got on the board with a birdie-2 on the par-3 4th that was worth two skins and $50,000.
Woods came right back on the par-5 fifth with a monster 3-wood to the green that set up a tap-in birdie that gave him three skins for the day and a total of $75,000.
Mickelson finally got on track after spending the early part of the round in bushes, hitting right-handed shots and basically just being Phil - all over.
He threw a dart at the short par-4 7th to within three feet, but O'Meara was also up to the task, he too knocking one tight for birdie.
At the par-3 eighth, Lefty fired his approach from 148 yards to about four feet. After watching Couples, Woods and O'Meara miss their birdie tries, Mickelson rolled in his birdie for two skins and $100,000.
'You can hit the ball all over the map,' said Mickelson. 'Tiger played the best of all four of us. But I was able to get some skins because each hole gives us a fresh opportunity to win.'
Couples, who won the event in 1995, 1996 and 1999, needed a spectacular eagle at the ninth to finally wrestle some money away from the others. His 5-iron from a sidehill lie in the rough found it's way to within four feet of the hole, and the ensuing putt gave him a lone skin and $50,000.
'I thought there would be an eagle there. I just didn't think it would be mine,' said Couples, who tied Jack Nicklaus with his record-tying ninth appearance at The Skins Game this weekend.
It was only the fourth time in the 20 years of the Skins Game that all four players had money in their pocket after the first nine holes.
The first six holes are worth $25,000 each, the next six holes are worth $50,000, the next five holes are worth $70,000, and the 18th hole is worth $200,000.
Full Coverage of the 2002 Skins Game