LA QUINTA, CALIF., NOV. 28 -- A long birdie putt on the first hole today ended a Skins Game drought for Jack Nicklaus.
"After going 35 holes without a skin, it was kind of nice to get that monkey off my back," Nicklaus said. "It broke the ice and got me rolling."
Nicklaus hadn't won in this made-for-television event since the first hole of the 1985 Skins Game, but ended that string with a 25-footer.
"It took the pressure off. After that, I was able to relax and enjoy it, and that's the way you want to play the Skins Game," he said.
Nicklaus birdied the first three holes he played, won two of them and capped off the day with a winning, 30-foot birdie putt on the ninth.
"That dang Nicklaus," said Fuzzy Zoeller. "He played better today than he has all year."
Nicklaus finished nine holes on the difficult PGA West stadium course $70,000 to the good. Zoeller won only one hole, but, with carryovers, it was a big one, worth $70,000, and pushed his Skins Games earnings to $695,000 in 45 holes. He was top winner each of the past two renewals.
Lee Trevino, the shortest hitter in the Hall of Fame foursome, won the only other skin, worth $25,000, with a birdie on the par-5 eighth.
Arnold Palmer was shut out, but will have a further chance Sunday with another $285,000 up for grabs over the final nine holes.
After his opening birdie, Nicklaus put it close on the second hole, but so did Zoeller and they halved with birdies. The $15,000 for that hole carried over to the next, and Nicklaus won that one, worth $30,000, with a birdie from eight feet.
The next three holes were halved, placing a $70,000 value on the seventh. There, Zoeller played a delicate short pitch over the water to about four feet and just inside Trevino. When Trevino missed, Zoeller made the little putt for the big prize.
"I had no idea how much it was worth. I knew it was a lot, but I can't add that fast," Zoeller said.
None of the four could reach the green in two on the 565-yard eighth. Palmer, Nicklaus and Trevino all pitched to within about six feet in three. Palmer and Nicklaus missed and Trevino made his birdie.
On the ninth, Trevino hit a great second shot from a fairway bunker to within 10 feet of the flag, and came scrambling out of the bunker shouting and waving and jumping.
Nicklaus' 5-iron approach stayed left. But Nicklaus holed his long putt and Trevino missed his, giving Nicklaus the final skin of the day.
Nicklaus, 47, once the dominant figure, won only $64,685 on the 1987 PGA Tour.