Chris Carlson, Associated Press
Stephen Ames watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the Skins Game at Indian Wells, Calif.

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Stephen Ames chuckled about his mostly mediocre 18 holes of golf. He can laugh all the way to the bank.

With $650,000 at stake on No. 18, Ames coolly knocked his 7-foot birdie putt into the center of the cup Sunday to win the Skins Game. The only other hole he won was the first, a day earlier.

"That's the nature of the Skins Game," Ames said, his smile still as wide as it was when his rich putt dropped. "It's always been the way you play at the Skins Game.

"You kind of let the other guys beat themselves up, and then you sneak in there when you need to."

Taking the title for the second year in a row, Ames finished with nine skins and $675,000 of the $1 million purse.

Five-time champion Fred Couples, playing in the 25-year-old tournament for the 14th time, also won nine skins, pocketing $325,000 to push his career earnings in the made-for-TV event to more than $4.2 million.

"Somebody's going to birdie the 18th hole probably, and Stephen did it to win a big, big, big skin," Couples said. "If you win the right holes, you win money."

Couples won three skins and $75,000 on the first day with a bunker shot into the hole for an eagle on No. 4, then picked up $250,000 with a 5-footer for birdie on No. 10 to begin the second day.

Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich, making their Skins Game debuts, were shut out.

"I certainly enjoyed the experience and playing with these three guys," Johnson said. "It's a very unique event. It's nothing like I've ever been familiar with. But when all is said and done, I'm very disappointed.."

Said Wetterich: "I just feel bad for the charity I was trying to play for. I feel worse about that than anything else."


WORLD CUP DRAW: The United States will open 2010 World Cup qualifying in June against the tiny Caribbean nations of Barbados or Dominica and is likely to wind up in a politically charged semifinal group with Cuba.

"The opportunity to play in Cuba will be significant. I think the players will look forward to it," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said after goalkeeper Kasey Keller set the matchup by plucking a blue ball from a bowl during Sunday's draw in Durban, South Africa.

Trying to make its sixth straight World Cup, the United States has a first-round bye. After advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002, the Americans were eliminated in the first round at last year's tournament in Germany.

The U.S. team is 5-1-1 against the Cubans, but has never played in Cuba. The teams have not met in a World Cup qualifier since 1949, when they played twice in Mexico City.

The United States is 2-0 against Barbados and has never played Dominica.

College football

BOWL-BOUND: Houston accepted an invitation Sunday to play in the hometown Texas Bowl on Dec. 28 against a Big 12 opponent. Houston (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) will be making its fourth bowl appearance in five years. The Cougars finished second in the C-USA West behind Tulsa after winning the conference last season. The Texas Bowl will be played at Reliant Stadium.

SHERMAN ON A&M LIST: Houston Texans assistant Mike Sherman declined comment Sunday on reports that he's the leading candidate for the Texas A&M job.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, another rumored replacement for Dennis Franchione, also said Sunday he hasn't been contacted by Texas A&M officials and doesn't expect them to come calling.

Franchione resigned Friday after A&M's 38-30 victory over Texas.

Sherman, who turns 53 on Dec. 19, has been the Texans' assistant head coach for two seasons under Gary Kubiak, a former A&M quarterback. Sherman became the offensive coordinator this season. He coached the Green Bay Pakers from 2000-05.

The Aggies went 32-28 in five seasons under Franchione and couldn't gain ground on the Big 12's elite teams. A&M hasn't won the league title since 1998.

Tuberville, also thought to be a strong candidate to succeed Franchione, said he would meet with Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs on Monday to begin talks that could lead to a contract extension.

NEBRASKA SEARCH BEGINS: The next Nebraska coach doesn't necessarily have to have ties to the school, but Tom Osborne says the Cornhuskers' next leader must have an understanding of the program's unique culture and history.

Somebody such as former Nebraska quarterback and Buffalo coach Turner Gill would qualify.

Buffalo athletic director Warde Manuel gave permission to Osborne, Nebraska's interim athletic director, to speak with Gill, the Buffalo News reported Sunday.

One of the criticisms of Bill Callahan, who was fired Saturday, was that he didn't understand or appreciate the fans' passion and high expectations. Both were inflated during Osborne's coaching career, a 25-year period that saw the Huskers average 10 wins a season and win three national championships.

Gill and LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini top the list of names mentioned most often as possible successors to Callahan.


SVINDAL WINS SUPER G: At Lake Louise, Alberta, defending overall champion Aksel Lund Svindal won the season opening super-giant slalom Sunday, his second victory of the World Cup season. The Norwegian star, the winner of the season-opening giant slalom in Solden, Austria, finished in 1 minute, 29.19 seconds. Austria's Benjamin Raich was second in 1:29.63, followed by Switzerland's Didier Cuche in 1:29.79. Steven Nyman was the top American, finishing 13th in 1:30.35. Scott MaCartney was 17th in 1:30.60, and Bode Miller 25th in 1:30.90.