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 the course that hosts The Players Championship, but it will be the most covered when the event starts on Thursday.
There are so many memories from that par 3, though none came in 2019 when Rory McIlroy last won a golf tournament here. However, Rickie Fowler won a Players on the 17th. Sergio Garcia lost one. Tiger Woods made a quadruple-bogey last time he played the event.
Tiger is also the author of probably the most famous moment on the hole which, incidentally, was actually a putt. There's been a great 20-year retrospective this week from the 2001 moment when Tiger hit the "better than most" putt on Saturday before winning on Sunday (he would also go on to win the Masters and hold all four majors and The Players at the same time).
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 (excluding that lone round in 2020).
- 5 -- Events in which the hole has played under par on average. Last time the event was played in full (2019), 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 in 2019. 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 a thought ahead of this year's event.
In recent years, I've come to believe that No. 17 was over-covered and overrated. And, in a lot of ways, it is. The 2019 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).