By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Every year 100,000 balls are retrieved from the waters around the 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass but on Thursday fans watched a golfer pull one out of the hole for just the ninth time after Ryan Moore struck a hole-in-one at the Players Championship.
Jim Furyk described the par-three 17th as the place where golfing ghouls come “to watch the car wreck” and there was plenty of carnage during the opening round to satisfy the massive gallery at the Island Green as 14 balls hit the drink.
But the biggest roar came for Moore when he struck a 121-yard sandwedge dead on, his ball striking the pin and shooting straight into the cup.
The ace was just the ninth ever hit during the Players and the first since Sergio Garcia in 2017.
“That ace on 17 was pretty unbelievable,” said Moore.
“It’s (17) one I’m always happy to walk off with a three, I know that.
“I have certainly made some birdies, I’ve definitely hit it in the water a few times, but at this point who hasn’t, after my 12th time or so playing this event.”
Thousands of golfers, from major winners to weekend duffers who shell out close to $500 for a round on the public course, have watched their balls plunk into the murky waters guarding the infamous green.
Last year’s Players Championship saw the 17th claim 54 balls and along with them a few title hopes.
Since 2003, Australian Aaron Baddeley has put a record 13 balls into the water while Phil Mickelson and Bob Tway have dunked nine apiece. Tway also holds the dubious distinction of carding the highest score at 17, taking a 12 in 2005.
With a wedge in hand, a 121-yard par three would be considered a piece of cake for most of the game’s top golfers.
But with the green surrounded by a pond with only a small path connecting it to the mainland, the 17th is famed course designer Pete Dye’s most diabolical creation and one of the golf world’s most famous holes.
Players also have to contend with thousands of howling spectators, tricky winds and the pressure of knowing one wayward shot on a Sunday could sink their hopes of claiming golf’s unofficial fifth major.
“It is like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal,” said Mark Calcavecchia in 2009. “You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day.”
Tiger Woods, the only golfer to win the Players in March and May, was challenging for the title once again last year but put his tee shot into the water in the final round to end his bid.
“I had to put the hammer down on 16 and 17 and 18,” recalled Woods on Tuesday about his run for the title last year. “I hit it right in the water on 17, so it wasn’t very good.”
He also has some good memories from the hole, however. In 2001 he drained the famous “Better than Most” birdie, snaking in a 60-footer to help him to his first Players title.
For Mickelson, the 17th is an unforgiving hole that demands a player commit completely to his shot.
“This is one of the few holes that I can think of that has no bail-out, that has no margin of error, that has no area for recovery,” he said in 2007.
“It’s an all-or-nothing type shot.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)