The fact that Watson had won only $10,000 may have affected his mood, because such an invocation of the Rules of Golf in a skins game seems almost funny. Everyone knows in a real skins game anything goes, including roots.
So they moved on to the par-5 17th with $150,000 riding on it. Jack was just off the green in two, but failed to get down in two from there, and this opened the door for Player. Earlier, back out in the fairway, Player had hit one of those sand-wedge approaches that make him start to walk with confidence before the ball lands. It had damn near landed in the cup, stopping four feet past the flag.
"Gary wanted to run up there and putt it before any of us could say anything," Nicklaus said. "It was like he came out of starting blocks."
That wedge shot and putt "won" the overall competition for the little South African, if it can be said there was a winner. Player did shoot the lowest back nine, a three-under 33, and the lowest 18, a two-under 70. But he wasn't going to count it as his 124th worldwide victory.
Nicklaus salvaged something for himself by recovering from a topped fairway wood on the par-5 18th with a nice seven-iron and a 10-foot birdie pull to take the last skin, which was worth $30,000. But the curtain had half dropped after Arnold's long putt at the 12th, and it had closed completely after Gary's nervous tap-in on the 17th.
There will be more of this sort of thing in the future. Desert Highlands has an option to host The Skins Game again next year, perhaps with the same foursome—maybe with one substitute or one additional player who has a name that sounds like Ballesteros. The rules on how many roots may be moved will be more explicit. There is talk of taking it on the road to Europe and Japan.
"If we do it too often, we'll have a tired vaudeville act," Nicklaus said, rightly. "Once a year might be enough. We need some variety in pro golf. I think the fans appreciate it."
Not as much as a golfer playing for somebody else's money, however.