By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — With apologies to Portugal, the only significant golf this week is on the site of a former swamp.
The Players Championship starts Thursday on the TPC Sawgrass, which offers a $10.5 million purse — even the runner-up gets over $1.1 million — a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a three-year exemption to the Masters and British Open and plenty of frustration when something goes wrong.
That’s the nature of Sawgrass, which Pete Dye created on former swamp land a mile from the ocean that features an island green on the par-3 17th, water just about everywhere else and margins of error so thin that it doesn’t take much for a player to take a big number.
Every par 3 has yielded a hole-in-one since the course began hosting The Players in 1982. Every par 4 has yielded an eagle. Two of the par 5s have yielded an albatross.
That’s the good news. On the other side, half of the holes have had a score in double digits.
The most famous might have been the 12 that Bob Tway made on the 17th in the third round of 2005. Russell Knox did his best to beat him, but he made a great putt for 9 last year.
Golf around the world has largely taken the week off, just like during the Masters. The exception this week is that the European Tour is staging the Portugal Open, although it also counts as a Challenge Tour event because most of the top players are at Sawgrass or at home.
The LPGA Tour takes a breath from Match Play before going to Kingsmill, one of its best tournaments. The PGA Tour Champions is taking a big breath from John Daly winning his first 50-and-older event. It has a major championship next week in Alabama.
Years ago, players were asked to give one word to describe the Players Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass. Tiger Woods called it “tricky.” Padraig Harrington referred to it as “exciting.” Paul Goydos called it “surprising.” Geoff Ogilvy, one of the most eloquent thinks, was speechless on this question.
Five days later in the final round, he was walking off the 14th tee when he spotted the reporter who had asked for the one-word description.
With no preamble, no context, Ogilvy walked over and said, “Annoying.”
Exciting? Just ask Rickie Fowler , who went eagle-birdie-birdie in 2015 to get into a playoff and then wound up winning with two more birdies on the 17th.
Surprising? Hunter Mahan was in the hunt in 2013 when his tee shot on the 15th went into a tree and never came down.
Tricky? It took Woods time to figure out how to hit a putt from the back of the 17th green into the cup. But he did, and it was better than most .
That was one of the most famous calls at The Players Championship, at least by an announcer (Gary Koch of NBC). The best commentary by a player belonged to Hal Sutton, who beat Woods in 2000 when Woods was thought to be unbeatable. Sutton clinched it with a 6-iron that indeed was the “right club today.”
The Players Championship has been around for 43 years — at TPC Sawgrass since 1982 — and all but 10 of its champions have gone on or already had won majors. Sergio Garcia was added to that list when he won the Masters. He won The Players in 2008 in a playoff that ended on the 17th hole when Garcia hit the island and Goydos did not.
Woods is the only two-time winner at the TPC Sawgrass.
No one has ever won back-to-back.
Blame that on the golf course, where anything can happen at just about any time. There have been seven aces on the island green over the years, one of them by Fred Couples, who holds the distinction of making the only hole-in-three. His first shot went into the water, his next one went into the cup .
For the next four days, brace yourself.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m. (NBC Sports).
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