TPC Sawgrass' 17th just not that hard

May, 6, 2014

There aren't many wedge shots that make the hands sweat quite like the one this week at No. 17.

Trivia question

Which player has made the most birdies on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in Players Championship history? Answer below

One of the most unique challenges in golf, the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass can be 137 yards of sheer terror for even the world's best at The Players Championship.

Since 2003, 525 shots have found the drink surrounding the island green. In Round 1 of the 2007 Players Championship alone, there were 50 balls in the water. In 2005, Bob Tway came to the tee at 17 in the third round at 7 under for the tournament. He proceeded to card a 12.

With all due respect to the raucous party found at 16 at TPC Scottsdale, "stadium golf" doesn't get much better than what fans will be treated to this weekend at the 17th at Sawgrass. Let's dive into the numbers surrounding one of the most notorious par-3s in the sport.

How tough, really, is the 17th hole?
Though it's the most famous of the four par-3s at TPC Sawgrass, the statistics say the 17th is far from the most difficult.

In fact, in three of the past five years it's been the easiest par-3 on the course during The Players Championship -- and the other two years, it was the second easiest. There are about 200 different par-3s played on the PGA Tour every season. Four of the past five years, the 17th at Sawgrass has ranked outside the top 110 in difficulty.

That statistic doesn't quite tell the whole story, though. This little monster can show its teeth from time to time.

Tournament winners haven't exactly torn up 17 in recent years. The only champion to play it better than par for the week (in regulation) over the past nine years was K.J. Choi, who was 1 under at 17 in 2010. In 2008, Sergio Garcia made double-bogey at 17 on Friday, and played it in 3 over for the week (also counting only regulation play). He of course went on to defeat Paul Goydos in a playoff that year.

Traditionally, the field has had the most difficulty with the closing hole at Sawgrass -- in three of the past four years, the 18th has ranked as the toughest hole on the course. In 2013, it ranked as the 13th toughest on the tour for the entire season.

But winners of The Players Championship have had just as much trouble with 17 as they have 18. Since 2004, the Players champions have played the 16th hole in a combined 26 under par. Nos. 17 and 18? Each a combined 2 over par.

Is there a correlation between success at 17 and a low Sawgrass scoring average? There are 10 players in this year's tournament field who have played at least eight rounds at TPC Sawgrass and have a career scoring average there under 71.5.

The complete list: Chris Stroud, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari, Martin Laird, Luke Donald, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Basically meaning, these are the 10 most consistent players at this event who are in the field this week.

For their collective Players Championship careers, these 10 are a combined 11 over on the 17th hole. On the rest of the course, they are a combined 154 shots under par. So to answer the question: Even those who find Sawgrass to fit their eye can struggle with 17.

Who's had the most success at 17? Three players in this year's field have a career scoring average at 17 of 2.70 or better (minimum eight career rounds played) -- Johnson Wagner (2.50), Chris Kirk (2.60) and Josh Teater (2.70).

If you don't remember those three exactly being world-beaters at this event, you'd be right. That trio, which has had great success at 17, hasn't had much anywhere else on the course. In 11 combined career starts, the three have four missed cuts, and none finished better than T-35.

No player in the field this week has made more career birdies at the 17th than Phil Mickelson (15). Readers of Numbers Game can file that under "statistics likely true at many holes on tour."

Trivia answer

Question: Which player has made the most birdies on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in Players Championship history?

Answer: Bernhard Langer, 24.

But the successes at 17 don't necessarily bring the hole its reputation -- it's the failures that do. And there have been some gloriously high numbers by the game's best there over the years.

Since 2004, there have been 83 triple-bogeys or worse carded at the 17th during The Players Championship. Golfers to join that club during that span include former world No. 1s (Rory McIlroy, Fred Couples, Ernie Els), Masters champions (Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson), and even players to win the event during their careers (Garcia, Stenson).

Never short on excitement, the 17th is sure to claim more victims this week.