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17th at TPC Sawgrass the scariest in golf

Former British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia says it has the same effect as a nervous wait for a nasty dental appointment.

Tiger Woods has frequently succumbed to its pressure during tournament play.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington succinctly sums it up as "a strange hole".

It is the infamous par-three 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass, the signature hole on the Stadium Course at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida which will host the Players Championship this week for the 25th time.

Arguably more photographed than any other hole in golf, the 137-yard 17th strikes fear into the heart of every competitor at the tournament unofficially dubbed as the fifth major.

Although it is the smallest hole on the par-72 Stadium layout, it unquestionably boasts the biggest reputation with its tantalising island green.

The tournament has often been decided there.

All too often, players have watched their title hopes drown in the murky waters that surround the green. Others, after managing to eke out a regulation par three, have marched on feeling as if they have just birdied the hole.

Of the 24 champions at the TPC at Sawgrass, only two have bogeyed the hole in the final round -- Australia's Steve Elkington in 1991 and American Fred Funk last year.

"It's such a hard hole," Funk said after his one-shot victory. "You can hit a good shot and end up in the water. It's such a pretty hole, but it's just tough to play."

Of the remaining 22 winners at Sawgrass, 13 have made par there on the last day while nine have made birdie.

For the golfers, surviving 17 is like walking a circus tightrope without a net. The slightest of miscalculations, or perhaps even a sudden switch in the breeze, can result in a big number and a ruined scorecard.

For the thousands of spectators who cram 30 deep around the banks of the pond, the 17th is the stuff of theatre and is quite simply the place to be.

"It's like having a three o'clock appointment for a root canal," 1989 British Open champion Calcavecchia said of the hole.

"You're thinking about (playing it) all morning and you feel (bad) all day. You kind of know, sooner or later, you've got to get to it."

World number one Woods, the 2001 Players champion, is a cumulative 12-over-par after negotiating the hole 36 times in tournament rounds. His record there includes three birdies, three double-bogeys and nine bogeys.

"When you play (17) on Tuesday and Wednesday, it's a pretty easy hole, a little flip nine-iron, no big deal," Woods said.

"You get out there in the tournament, all of a sudden there's a pin location that's tucked in the corner or over a slope, and the green seems to shrink up a little bit. You know you've got to step up there and be committed.

"The hardest thing about that hole is that you need to be committed on the shot and you know you can't really hit a poor shot and get away with it."

Irishman Harrington, runner-up at the Players in 2003 and 2004, agreed.

"In practice it's fine, it's no problem," he said. "You pull a club and you hit it, it doesn't seem such a difficult hole.

"Then you get in the tournament and there are all sorts of things happening before and after. You can cut the tension in the air down there, especially if you're going well. It's a strange hole."

Created by accident by course designer Pete Dye, the 17th is a 137-yard test of nerve as much as accuracy.

The 4,000-square foot island green is surrounded by still black water, leaving the players with very little room for error.

In tournament play, the biggest number posted there was a nightmarish 12 by American Bob Tway during last year's third round. His first tee shot flew over the green, as did his second.

His third and fourth attempts landed on the front of the green before spinning back into the water. His fifth attempt, however, held the green from where he three-putted.

"You can be leading by two, leading by four but, until you get past 17, it's never really over," said 2004 winner Adam Scott of Australia.

However this week's tournament plays out after Thursday's opening round, the par-three 17th will likely to feature prominently -- for good and for bad.

March 21, 2006

 




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