The best of professional golf’s various tours will finish descending on Ponta Vedra, Fla. on Tuesday in anticipation of the 44th edition of the Players Championship.
For the 36th year in a row, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass will be the venue for the PGA Tour’s “fifth major.”
Jason Day returns as defending champ in a field that includes Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott among a host of top players competing.
In fact, only two players in the top 50 in the world, Brandt Snedeker and Thomas Pieters, won’t be playing.
Those who are in it, will have to contend with a fairly difficult course made even more so by the unholy 17th, a water-surrounded par-3 that has eaten up many a player.
It’s as synonymous with this tourney as the Big Green Monster is to Fenway Park. So tempting to test it with an aggressive swing, but too often leaving a player scuffling with his head down.
The island green at TPC Sawgrass is but one of many diabolical holes that tour pros — and some hapless amateurs — have to tackle to win big championships.
Here are 10 of the toughest, in no particular order.
10. Augusta National – No. 12, Par 3, 155 Yards
Right smack in the middle of “Amen Corner”at Augusta is the hole that brought Jordan Spieth to his knees in 2016, ending his dream of winning back-to-back green jackets. That par-3 hole would be the 12th, which is protected by Rae’s Creek in front, bunkers front an back and the azaleas that flower behind it too. Spieth’s Sunday blow up on the hole that Jack Nicklaus said was the “most dangerous par-3 in the game” saw him shoot a quadruple-bogey seven that dropped him out of the lead for good. But, he hasn’t been the hardest done by. No, that dishonor might go to Tom Weiskopf in 1980, when he dunked five balls into Rae’s Creek for a gut-turning 10-over score of 13. Nick Price described perfectly how this hole has to be tackled: “It’s the one hole I’ve played that demands absolute commitment mentally. Wind or not, if you don’t have that, you will pay serious consequences.”
9. Royal Troon – No. 8, Par 3, 123 Yards
The green at the eighth hole at the venerable old course at Royal Troon isn’t called “the Postage Stamp” for nothing. The ridiculously small scale of the green is nearly matched by the a treacherous tee shot from high ground that has to carry a gully and onto the tiny green set into a sandhill. Deep bunkers all around add to the fright some players feel when they step up to the tee block for the shortest hole on any Open Championship course. Tiger Woods, who had it going on during the 1997 Open Championship, but carded a six there on his third round to end any hope of him winning it. We like what Graeme McDowell said about the tricky little par-3 best before the Open played there in 2016: “There will be carnage, plenty of carnage. Count on it. You can chip a 6-iron to get there, you can hit a wedge. If the wind is howling, all sorts of numbers are going to be recorded on that hole. It’s brilliant. And it’s dangerous.”
8. Bay Hill – No. 18, Par 4, 441 Yards
The Arnold Palmer Invitational at the late great golfer’s Bay Hill course in Orlando is a must attend for the PGA Tour’s top golfers. Only thing is, getting through the first 17 holes all right is just a prelude to the monster that awaits at the end. It’s a hole where everything comes into play. Wind, water just egging golfers to try and carry, bunkers and thick, thick rough around the green. While there have been some great finishes at this hole, a la Tiger Woods, but for many, a pin tight up against the water has been just too tempting for righties to try and fade a ball into it on the right dogleg hole. Rarely has the average score on this hole been near par and in 2017 it was 4.29. There were 48 birdies in the Arnold Palmer event won by Marc Leishman this year, but there were also 91 bogeys, 21 double bogeys and, ominously, eight “others.”
7. Carnoustie – No. 18, Par 4, 444 Yards
Jean van de Velde and the infamous Barry Burn on the 18th hole at Carnoustie Golf Links will forever be intertwined. The hapless French golfer arrived at the 18th tee deck, his final hole, requiring only a double bogey six to win the 1999 Open Championship. He had to have been heartened by the fact that he birdied the hole in the second and third rounds too. He had a three-shot lead, but chose to go driver instead of laying up with an iron. That was his first mistake on a hole where that twisting, turning waterway forces a golfer to carry it twice and thick rough and pot bunkers dotted throughout to catch other wayward shots. The Frenchman made an absolute mess of the hole, finding the Burn, a pot bunker, knee deep rough and shot a seven to force a three-way playoff that he lost miserably too.
6. Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass – No. 17, Par 3, 137 Yards
It’s just a pitching wedge approach for most players on the tour, but it’s a heart-pounding, butt-clenching, palm-sweating shot many fear near the end of a round. The odds of a player dunking a shot in the water surrounding the green at the Stadium Course’s 17th are so great that an offshore betting concern has compiled prop bets. They include: total tee shots in the water (over/under 38.5); total final round tee shots in the water (over/under 6.5) and highest single score on no. 17 (over/under 7). We say take the over on total shots into the water because in a 13-year period between 2003 and 2015, the low was 28 (2014) and the high was 93 (2007) and the overall average was 46. Thus, it’s not a matter of if, but when, a tour pro chunks one into the drink.
5. Oakmont Country Club – No. 1, Par 4, 485 Yards
Nothing like starting a tournament like the U.S. Open with a bang. Oakmont C.C. in Plum, PA has hosted nine U.S. Opens and three PGA championships over the years and right from the get-go tour pros are forced to make precision shots. The shot off the tee demands at least 290 yards in distance, or the second shot will be blind. The player making the shot also has to avoid bunkers that line the tight fairway on both sides. A long iron is usually required for the approach to a green that slopes hard from front to back. Most of the best in the game say Oakmont, which also features those crazy “pew bunkers” later on, is one of the hardest tests in golf. The U.S. Open, for that matter, has been called “the meanest, toughest, roughest, cruelest, stingiest SOB in major golf,” by one veteran wag and hosting it at Oakmont only deepens players fears playing in it.
4. Whistling Straits – No. 18, Par 4, 500 Yards
It has a cute nickname, “Dye-abolical” (for course designer Pete Dye), but the 18th at Whistling Straits in Kohler, WI is anything but a smiley-face emoji for PGA tour pros. Not only is it a long par 4, but the 18th has sand dunes, bunkers and creek that eat wayward tee shots. Should a player find the fairway, the approach is downhill and often into the teeth of a biting wind off Lake Michigan. Dustin Johnson, who knew a lot of heartache in major events, found out at the PGA Championship in 2010 just how “Dye-abolical” 18 was. He had a one-stroke lead on Sunday at the final hole when his tee shot sailed wide right and into the gallery. On a course that features 1,200 bunkers, Johnson didn’t know that the spectator-trampled area his ball settled in was actually one of them. In the end, an unaware Johnson ground his club and was assessed a two-stroke penalty to finish the hole with a triple bogey, denying him a shot at winning his first major.
3. Old Course at St. Andrews – No. 17, Par 4, 495 Yards
The “Road Hole” and its crazy deep bunker guarding the green has been the site of many a meltdown in Open Championship history. St. Andrews has hosted the venerable tournament 29 times, the lat coming in 2015. Tiger Woods has won there twice, as did Jack Nicklaus. It’s the lesser lights, however, who have had the most trouble with that Road Hole Bunker. That is, once they’ve cleared a slender fairway dotted with humps and hillocks and that requires a carry over a portion of the Old Course Hotel if a player wants a shot at making the green in regulation. In the 1978 Open, Tommy Nakajima took five shots to get out of that bunker. Twenty-two years later, David Duval needed four attempts. It’s been touted as one of the toughest par-4s in the world and we couldn’t agree more.
2. Pebble Beach – No. 8, Par 4, 427 Yards
The Monterey peninsula in California is dotted with eight different courses, with Pebble Beach being one of its most picturesque — and demanding. The course known for hosting the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, as well as five U.S. Opens and one PGA championship is as pretty to look at as it is a gut-churning test of golf. The 8th hole is the signature hole on this beauty of a track. The tee shot on this 427-yard par 4 is blind and once up to the ball, the approach is over a craggy ocean inlet to a green that appears to be no larger than the head of a thimble. Basically, a tour pro, or unfortunate hacker, has to lay up with the drive to avoid the “Cliffs of Doom” and dropping the ball into the awaiting ocean. Successful with that, the approach is typically made with a five-iron across Stillwater Cove to a bunker-protected green that slopes back to front (with the fairway tilting a wayward ball to the sea).
1. Doral – No. 18, Par 4, 467 Yards
One of the hardest finishing holes in golf on a course aptly named “the Blue Monster” is the par-4 18th hole at Doral Golf Club. It’s a dogleg left all the way to the green and it’s flanked by water on the left and trees on the right and many an unforgiving bunker. Many players have gotten up the courage to try and fly the ball to a reasonable landing area, only to find water or terrible lies in a bunker or in the trees. Called an “impossible hole” by none other than Bubba Watson, it has played to as lofty a stroke average as 4.65 on the tour. Not one player has made eagle on the hole since 2005 and typically 50 percent (or lower) of players hit the fairway. Adam Scott’s synopsis of the hole is best: “The drive is about ten yards wide and if you miss, then you’re looking at double bogey. It just such a tough tee shot.”