Saturday, May 13, 2017

By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM  
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course can test a player's fortitude. (Caryn Levy, Stan Badz/PGA TOUR, Scott Halleran/Getty Images)THE PLAYERS Stadium Course can test a player's fortitude. (Caryn Levy, Stan Badz/PGA TOUR, Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Russell Knox recalls his 9 at the par-3 17th last year ... and he missed the cut this year!

By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM  
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida – The blood was pumping in his ears as he felt the eyes of the world drill into him. Somewhere in the distance, he heard laughter.
Russell Knox had been climbing the leaderboard when he hit his tee shot in the water at the par-3 17th in the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship last year.
Then the Scot hit a second one in the drink, and a third. He finally made a 9. The gaffe sent him spiralling out of contention, from 8 under and tied for fifth place to 2 under and -- well, it didn’t matter anymore.
“The green felt like it was the size of a quarter,” said the man from Inverness afterwards. By the way, he missed the cut comfortably this year.
Whatever else you want to say about THE PLAYERS -- best field in golf, toughest tournament to win -- it is also a theater of human frailty. One minute you’re in contention, the next you’re in a YouTube video. Knox agonized. Then he shrugged. Finally, he laughed.
“I’d just thrown myself out of the tournament, so it was either react the way I did or be miserable in front of the local fans,” he says now. “I took the ‘make fun of myself’ approach.”
His sense of humour helped, but so did the fact that he wasn’t alone. Not hardly.
On Friday, Anirban Lahiri came to the 18th hole at even par and about to make the cut. He promptly pumped three balls in the water and made a 10 to miss by a mile.
A single lapse at THE PLAYERS can escalate into utter chaos anytime, but especially on the weekend, when the cameras and other distractions multiply, and hazards (and the $1.89 million winner’s cheque) loom larger.
This year there’s even more treachery on the back nine: water left of the short par-4 12th, where some will try to drive the green, which tilts toward the trouble -- as if there isn’t already enough of it on this confounding Pete Dye course.

'Wall of death'

In the third round in 2011, Graeme McDowell took a three-shot lead to the 18th hole. With a par to close out his round, which was being completed Sunday morning due to weather delays, he would add a sparkling 66 to early rounds of 67-69.
Then it all went wrong.
“I hit it about a yard in the right rough,” McDowell says. “The pin was in that middle-right spot and I couldn’t get to it, so I pitched my ball right on the front edge of the green, right where you’re supposed to, and there’s this wall of death there, this tier, and it went across the green and in the water and I made double. It’s still one of the worst breaks of my career.
“I went from being three ahead to one ahead,” McDowell adds. “An hour and a half, two hours later I came out so deflated for the last round and had a really bad day.”
McDowell shot a final-round 79 to finish T-33.
Rory McIlroy says he learned the hard way to curb his aggressive instincts, missing the cut at TPC Sawgrass in his first three starts in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“I’ve definitely limited the amount of drivers I’ve hit,” McIlroy says, noting that the Stadium Course features several pinch points at 300 yards. Although his driving has historically set him apart, he adds, he’s had to come to terms with “hitting the ball in the same positions as everyone else off the tee and then trying to beat them in from there. It’s that sort of golf course.”
McIlroy’s results since he accepted that fact: T-8, T-6, T-8, T-12. He also made the cut this week and hopes to chase down the leaders on the weekend.
“You have to plot your way around,” says Chez Reavie, who shot 68-72 in the first two rounds this week and is in contention to win on the US PGA TOUR for the first time since the 2008 RBC Canadian Open.
“You can miss by two yards and it kicks down and you’ve got no chance. The biggest thing is when you’re in trouble, just hit the shot to get you out of trouble instead of trying the miracle shot. Just take your bogey.”
Of course that is easier said than done, especially at the 17th hole, where there’s no place to miss on its island green. Of those who have played the 17th at least eight times, just five of the 146 players in this PLAYERS field came into the week having never missed it: Graham DeLaet (16 of 16), Daniel Summerhays (14), Scott Brown (12), David Lingmerth (8) and Reavie (8). DeLaet increased his streak to 18 after the first two rounds; alas, he missed the cut.
Think of 17, though, and you probably don’t think of those names. Instead, you recall the fates of Len Mattiace (8 in 1998), Sean O’Hair (7 in 2007) and Sergio Garcia (7 in 2013), all of whom wrecked their title chances there in the final round.
 Or Knox, who suffered his memorable disaster in the penultimate round last year. Sometimes tragic, always expensive, their wipe-outs at the slickest turn on the track were above all unforgettable.
As a rule, the closer the player is to the lead -- and the closer he is to the finish line -- the faster and more indelibly it goes into PLAYERS' lore if he crashes. Bob Tway was four off the lead when he made a record 12 on the hole in the third round in 2005. It was a hole to forget, but it could have been worse. He could have been playing the final round, in the lead, with every deep breath and nervous fidget being broadcast around the globe.






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