Originally created 11/26/05

Funk joins Couples, Tiger, Sorenstam at Skins



LA QUINTA, Calif. - Poor Fred Funk. He gets invited to the Skins Game for the first time, and all he hears from Tiger Woods is that he'll face eternal grief if Annika Sorenstam outdrives him even once.

Woods was at it again Friday, busting Funk's chops some 24 hours before the foursome - which includes Mr. Skins himself, Fred Couples - stepped up to the first tee.

Sorenstam was talking about how hard it is for her to win skins on the par 5s against "these long hitters" when Woods saw an opening.

"Two of us are long hitters," Woods chimed in.

"Oh yeah, sorry," Sorenstam said.

"It's already starting," the easygoing Funk said.

The 49-year-old Funk, known for his short but straight tee shots, has taken the ribbing good-naturedly ever since Woods started it at the Presidents Cup dinner in September.

"I just mentioned to Tiger that I'd just found out that I was in the Skins," Funk said. "And he says, 'You know, Annika's the fourth.' And I said, 'Really, I'm the fourth.' And he said, 'Well, if she outdrives you, you'll never hear the end of it.'

"I said, 'She's going to outdrive me.' And Jim Furyk's down there chirping up, 'I'm definitely watching this year.'"

Woods reinjured his left ankle on the eighth hole of the pro-am, played the ninth and then left to ice it. He's still expected to play in the Skins Game, a spokesman said. Wood twisted the ankle recently while playing in Japan.

The first nine holes will be played Saturday and the final nine Sunday at the par-72, 7,055-yard Trilogy Golf Club in the middle of the desert.

"We're going to have a lot of fun with it," Funk said. "It's going to be tough, though. I'm not sure whether I can outdrive her. It's not whether she can outdrive me. I know if I hit my little miss out to the right - I have terms for it but I don't want to use it right now - it goes out there and doesn't go very far, and she hits her normal shot, I'm done. I'm out."

While Funk's pride might take a beating, his bank account won't necessarily. The Skins Game, sponsored by Merrill Lynch, is all about timely putting and the occasional sensational shot, which Sorenstam - coming off another 10-win season on the LPGA Tour - and Couples know all about.

Last year, Couples won his record fifth Skins Game with a total of $640,000, pushing his career totals to $3,515,000 and 77 skins in 11 appearances in the made-for-TV tournament.

He won all his money on Sunday, sinking a birdie putt worth $300,000 on the day's first hole, then beating Woods in a playoff, claiming the final three skins and $340,000 after Woods' tee shot on the fourth extra hole went into the water.

The day before, Sorenstam kept $250,000 in play when she sank a short birdie putt to halve the ninth hole and keep Adam Scott from sweeping the first-day skins. Of course, that set up Couples' rich putt the next morning.

"There's always going to be some huge, huge holes," Couples said. "And as Annika said, she doesn't have a lot of opportunities to win par 5s, but on the ninth hole if you remember last year, she made a hell of a putt, then I won the next hole the next day."

To which Woods deadpanned: "Yeah, that's great."

"It's all luck, to be honest with you," Couples said. "Tiger birdies seven or eight holes a round. I think that's what you have to do. If you're lucky enough to win scattered holes, great, but if you win the big hole, there's a lot of luck involved. That's really, basically, what the Skins Game is all about."

Even though the men have more power off the tee, Sorenstam, the first woman to compete in the Skins Game, held her own two years ago at the same course. She made one of the most spectacular shots in Skins Game history, a 39-yard bunker shot for eagle on the par-5 ninth to win four skins and $175,000 to take the first-day lead. She finished with $225,000 and five skins, placing second behind Couples.

Sorenstam was shut out last year while Woods finished second with five skins and $310,000, more money than he won in his previous four Skins Games combined. His career totals are $535,000 and 14 skins.

"I had a chance last year to take down the champ and that splashdown ended it," said Woods, who's won 10 majors but has struggled at the Skins Game. "He's unbelievable in this event. He keeps getting all those skins. Hopefully we can make a birdie at the right time."

Holes one through six are worth $25,000 each; Nos. 7-12, $50,000 apiece; 13 through 17, $70,000 each; and the 18th is a "Super Skin" worth $200,000. If no one wins a skin on a hole, the money is added to the following hole. Each player will give 20 percent of his or her earnings to charity.