Just about the only photo I’ve seen gain traction this week is the one with the disappearing bridge. It shows the effect that days of rain can have on the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, home to the unofficial 5th men’s major, the Players Championship. 5 inches of rain fell during a 36-hour period, inundating the course and raising the levels of Pete’s Pond (does it have a name?) that abuts the 16th fairway and putting surface and completely surround the 17th green.
Half a decade ago, the PGA Tour moved its showcase event from March to May. The reasoning was, it wanted to show off its elaborate clubhouse and iconic course with players in short sleeves, not rainsuits and snow caps. The move has been a good one for the tour, as golfers like Kuchar, Mickelson, Choi and Garcia have emerged from the fray as champions.
A glance at the weather forecast ahead suggests that the deluge is behind the Jacksonville area and that the course will soak up the excess rains and be in tip-top shape for this Thursday’s first round. If it’s a little soft, tee balls that typically run into trouble will stay in the fairway and approach shots will take direct aim at hole locations. Remember, these guys are good.
There have been 39 victors at the Players Championship (nee the Tournament Players Championship, as it was called for its first 14 iterations. Of those men, only Jack Nicklaus (3 titles) and Fred Couples, Steve Elkington & Davis Love 3 (2 titles) have repeated as display cases. Tiger and Phil have won it once, but so have Mark Hayes, Craig Perks and Jodie Mudd. While Sawgrass doesn’t favor a type of player, it certainly doesn’t deny its former champions another victory. The tournament is just as likely to identify an unexpected champion as it is an odds-on favorite.
8 of 39 playings have gone to a playoff, so there’s a 20% chance that we’ll see one this year. In 2012, Matt Kuchar found his way past Rickie Fowler, Ben Curtis, Zach Johnson and Martin Laird in extra holes. If there’s to be a repeat winner or a first-time upstart, it will be exciting.
On a course built for drama, the recipe at Ponte Vedra Beach was to craft a demanding, 15-hole beginning, then close with a trio of unforgettable moments of drama. The golf course builds to its closing crescendo, winding through oaks and along swampland, over sand and around spectator mounds to greens and fairways that epitomize the term “target golf.” The 16th hole, a reachable par five, will present its share of Sunday eagles and double bogies. The island 17th, just a wedge (albeit to a uniquely-sectioned green) will see at least one player’s adrenaline burst cause a too-long tee ball, and at least a few more with early releases that come up short. The 18th will call for one last, great tee ball or it will be recovery the rest of the way.
Here are a few selections, in case you enjoy a friendly wager with your pals:
Adam Scott (winner in 2004) Martin Laird (winner on tour this year)
Tiger Woods (winner in 2001) Billy Horschel (Florida Gator with one win)
Webb Simpson (finding a bit of form, finally) Jim Furyk (the course likes wily veterans)
Jason Day (this guy is due a big one) Luke Donald (should win more than he does)
Rory McIlroy (is he ever not a favorite?) Charlie Beljan (gets on a roll and adios)