The most-photographed hole in golf is also the most-loathed, most-famous or most-talked about, depending who you are and what opinion you hold. The 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Barely 100 yards, most of it water, all of it a thrill ride. It’s not the best hole on this course, which will host the 2020 Players Championship this week, but it will be the most covered as the festivities get underway on Thursday.
There are so many memories from that par-3, but none of them came last year in the final round as Rory McIlroy — the eventual champion — played it in a ho-hum three strokes and raised a trophy 25 minutes later. Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood both made double bogey there last year after hitting balls in the water, but neither had a good chance of reaching McIlroy’s 16 under regardless.
However, we’ve seen plenty of tournaments won or lost on that hole. Rickie Fowler won one there. Sergio Garcia lost one. Tiger Woods made a quadruple-bogey last year. There will be blood, although not from Woods this time around as he’s skipping the event.
How do you sum up a hole? One way is by recalling all the memories anecdotally. Another is a dive into the numbers over the years. Your experience watching (or playing?) might not be indicative of the field’s experience in any given year. Let’s look at those numbers.
- 5 — Events in which the hole has played under par on average. Last year, it was 3.002, which is about as close as you can get without being under par.
- 17 — Balls hit in the water in the final round last year. That’s the most in a final round since 2005 when there were 28 hit in the water.
- 50 — Most balls hit in the water during a round. That came in the first round in 2007, more than were hit in the water during the entire 2019 tournament.
- 9 — Aces at No. 17. There were none from 2003-16, but there have been three in the last four years: Willy Wilcox (2016), Sergio Garcia (2017) and Ryan Moore (2019).
- 12 — Highest score ever on this hole came in 2005 when Bob Tway quadrupled the par. It ties the highest score on any hole at TPC Sawgrass during a Players (12 was also shot on the 4th hole once).
With all of that mind, we’ll end with one prediction and one thought ahead of the event.
A prediction: Patrick Reed dumps one in the water in a critical moment. It will be a four-month “ball don’t lie” exclamation point to his nonsense at the Hero World Challenge and a very compelling moment in this year’s event as I think Reed is one of the nine or so guys with the best chance to win.
A final thought: In recent years, I’ve come to believe that No. 17 was over-covered and overrated. An, in a lot of ways, it is. Last year’s scoring average was 3.002, which means it was technically the most average (boring) hole on the course. That’s not how it plays out, though.
Over time, I’ve learned to embrace the reality that it’s going to be prominently featured and simply root for chaos. Fowler going after right pins with his legacy at stake. Balls in the water. Penalty shots in the water. Ace attempts on the front pin when it’s put there.
TPC Sawgrass is a great, underrated course, and while this hole doesn’t fit the latter part of that equation, it’s still a fun part of one of the best events of the year. I’m here for that this season (and hopeful it gets wild late on Sunday … even Saturday would do).