Players Championship hopefuls must shine on long, wet finishing stretch


The Players Championship is contested on one of the most visually intimidating courses on the PGA Tour, the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course, and nowhere does the sight of water come into play more than down the stretch.

The par-5 16th, the famous par-3 17th and the par-4 18th may not have a scary nickname like PGA National’s Bear Trap or Innisbrook’s Snape Pit, but every year they lie in wait to wreck the dreams of those vying for the huge check and a 10-year Tour exemption.

Does the Players Promenade sound too much like a barber shop quartet?

The hole that commands the most attention on this stroll is the 17th, which has a scorecard distance of 137 yards but which played 123 yards in the first round of the 2016 Players and 147 in the second.

It’s an island green, so after the first shot a player’s caddie is either handing him a putter or a snorkel. (Only one player, Mark Wilson, hit into the tiny bunker on the front-right portion of the green.)

But as scary as hitting a wedge shot to an island green might seem, maybe golfers should be more afraid of the tee shot on 18. There were 437 tee shots on the 17th hole last year, and 33 found water (7.6 percent). Of the same number of tee shots on the 18th hole, 48 (11 percent) splashed.

Not surprisingly, the winners of each Players since 2010 (except Martin Kaymer in 2014) have handled the finishing holes at TPC Sawgrass well.

When Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods won, they scored significantly better than the field on the final three holes. Jason Day, K.J. Choi and Tim Clark also performed better than the field, while Kaymer is the only one of the last seven winners to lose ground to the field for the week on the final three holes.

As expected, the winners of recent Players also scored well the par 5s, which are scoring chances for pros. Any player wanting to contend at Sawgrass had better not squander those opportunities to make birdies.

Woods decimated the par 5s on his way to winning, playing them in 12 under to help him reach 13 under for the week. Kaymer played the par 5s in 8 under the year he won, while Day, Fowler and Kuchar each played the par 5s in 7 under en route to victory.

Clark and Choi were the shortest-hitting of the previous seven Players Championship winners, having a driving distance average of 278 yards and 280.8 yards, respectively.

But they made up for lack of distance off the tee by being marksmen with their putters: Clark finished first in strokes gained: putting when he won the Players, and Choi finished second. The remaining five winners finished with an average rank in strokes gained: putting of 17.4.

Closing advantage

Each of the past seven winners of the Players Championship outperformed the field average on the closing three holes. Listed are the players total strokes taken on those holes in each round (par would be 12) and that player’s total advantage over the field for the week:

(Note: This story appeared in the May 1, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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