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Archive for Friday, April 1, 2005

One hole sullies Players Championship

April 1, 2005

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— The Players Championship dodged a major bullet.

The PGA Tour's showcase event was teetering on the edge of ridicule, although not for obvious reasons. It only would have looked bad if the fifth major had needed six days to find a winner.

Was it three rain delays that left players stranded in the clubhouse with nothing better to do than complain?

Not at all.

Weather happens. Golf should be thankful it doesn't happen more often. Besides, wholesale grumbling is heard the loudest at majors, so perhaps The Players Championship made big strides this year.

It wasn't the condition of the course or "preferred lies" that tarnished its stature, either.

Rain turned the TPC at Sawgrass into a sloppy mess, leaving tournament officials no choice but to allow players to lift, clean and place the ball in the fairway. That doesn't happen at any other major, and purists will argue that the ball should be played where it lies.

What nearly cost The Players Championship major credibility was the fifth day.

It was the seventh time this tournament had to be finished on Monday, so that was nothing new. And there is a precedent on the major scene; the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont did not end until Monday because of rain.

But the wind that shooed away the storm nearly exposed the 17th hole as the gimmick it is, and showed why one hole might be the obstacle that keeps The Players Championship from being regarded as a major.

A sign on the course warns of approaching bad weather during the
third round of The Players Championship on Sunday. The tournament
was hounded by inclement weather all weekend.

A sign on the course warns of approaching bad weather during the third round of The Players Championship on Sunday. The tournament was hounded by inclement weather all weekend.

As it stands, the tournament has 17 holes of championship golf.

The other hole is a circus.

The island green is the most notorious par 3 in golf, perhaps the most well-known among mainstream fans.

But it is not golf the way it is meant to be played.

What was the most nerve-racking moment on the final round? The 17th tee, of course.

"It can just ruin the whole week," Funk said.

Tiger Woods called it a made-for-TV hole, easy for him to say since it usually eats his lunch. He would have no problem if it were the eighth hole of the round, but not one second from the end.

"I don't think a hole like that should decide a tournament," he said.

It can decide fate long before that. Bob Tway was four shots out of the lead late in the third round Monday morning when he hit four balls into the water and made a 12, the highest score ever on that hole. Two shots hit the green and spun off into the water. He went from a tie for 10th to a tie for 72nd.

"You're playing great," Tway said quietly. "All of a sudden, in one hole, you might as well be finishing last."

What spared The Players Championship from embarrassment was that the strongest wind in tournament history blew from left to right. Had the direction been downwind or into the players' faces, it would have become a guessing game which club to use.

One of these days, that will happen.

Golf is not meant to be fair.

You can't play the ball as it lies when it doesn't stay on the 17th green at Sawgrass.

It is an exciting hole, a dramatic hole. The Players Championship might not be the same without it.

Majors test skill, patience and nerves. At times, they require luck.

But they should never demand it.

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