Players Championship 2012: Power Ranking Hardest Holes at Golf's Fifth Major

Kevin Casey@kevincasey19Contributor IMay 7, 2012

Players Championship 2012: Power Ranking Hardest Holes at Golf's Fifth Major

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    The most lucrative week in golf for the pros who make up the PGA Tour (seriously, a $1.71 million payout for the winner?) is upon us once again.

    The Players Championship will bring in one of the strongest fields in golf as tour players vie for possibly the biggest non-major championship trophy in golf.

    Despite the tournament's success, its host course, the TPC of Sawgrass, has never gotten the universal praise those in the PGA Tour offices have hoped.

    Ask former tour commissioner Deane Beman and course architect Pete Dye about Sawgrass' initial reception. They might be able to come up with a whole book of player complaints in regards to the course's design.

    Numerous tweaks to the course have diminished criticisms over the years, yet to most there are still flaws to fix.

    Nonetheless, this quirky layout has been an appropriate challenge for players over the years and has produced its fair share of theatrics.

    Counting down from the 18 handicap to the toughest hole, here is a breakdown of this world-famous course.

    It may not get the accolades of Augusta National, but it is surely a beauty in its own right.

18. Par-Five 16th

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    The 16th is the beginning of the exciting final three-hole stretch that has produced many a great finish to the PLAYERS over the years.

    At just 523 yards, this par-five is easily reachable in two and very susceptible to red numbers.

    The hole isn't defenseless though.

    If players miss the fairway, they face a tough layup as water out to the right and oak trees to the left narrow the area needed to be in good position for a third shot approach.

    The 16th is also a big risk/reward hole, especially on Sunday when the pin is on the right side, tucked next to the water that can quickly turn eagles and birdies into bogeys and doubles.

    Still, this is mostly a pretty straightforward par-five. Hit it down the fairway and you leave yourself a mid or long-iron to a very hittable green. The putting surface even slopes left-to-right, giving players the chance to aim away from the water and let the ball funnel toward a right pin location.

    All in all, scores at the 16th range anywhere from eagles to double-digits, but expect most players to take care of this short and simple par-five.

17. Par-Five Second

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    Only nine yards longer than the easy 16th, the second hole at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course doesn't challenge players much more.

    With even the shortest hitters able to give this green a go in two, there will be no shortage of red numbers at the course's first par-five come the week of the Players.

    The hole does call for an accurate drive, as both sides of the fairway are flanked by trees that will certainly stop players from going for the putting surface in two. In addition, each side of the green is guarded by deep bunkers that won't make up-and-downs an easy task.

    This is still a green-lighter for players though, and with two solid shots, they should be putting for eagle and a nice boost early on in their rounds.

16. Par-Five 11th

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    The third-easiest hole competitors will see is yet another par-five.

    The hole plays 558 yards and, like the first two five pars on this list, is definitely reachable in two with a good drive.

    A second shot to the green on this hole is much tougher tough.

    Players are faced with a long-iron approach that must carry a humongous front bunker and hold on a very firm green.

    Good luck trying to get an eagle putt out of that.

    A layup is no consolation either. A second shot out to the right could bring a huge oak tree into place on the third, and if played left, the layup must carry over water and waste areas, not exactly tense-free.

    Of the par-fives, this is the first with some serious bite and won't give into low scores quite so easily as the second and the 16th.

15. Par-Four 12th

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    The first par-four on the course, the 12th should give the players little trouble.

    The hole is 358 yards and is no more than an iron off the tee and a wedge to the green. The tee shot should preferably be hit out to the right as mounds on the left side make any approach on the left half of the fairway a blind one.

    This could make matters a bit more difficult, but not much so. Give these players a wedge to a green with no hazards and they should have a field day with this one.

14. Par-Five Ninth

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    At the end of the front nine lay a hole that will reward great shots with eagles and birdies but provides little margin for error.

    Yes, the ninth hole is the hardest par-five on the TPC Sawgrass course and not only because of its length (583 yards).

    Simply put, any approach shot to this green must be well struck, otherwise a player might find themselves in some trouble.

    Deep bunkers guard the green left, and huge mounds and thick rough right of the green serve to make any scrambling shot more than a player's bargained for.

    Tiger Woods displayed the incredible touch needed to escape the perilous right side (skip to 0:19 in the video), but that sort of short-game magic is rare from there.

    The hole's difficulty doesn't end there. The putting surface is sloped a great deal from front to back and although shorter third shots should have no problem sticking, fairway wood or long-iron second shots require a terrific shot to stay on the green in two.

    The ninth is a hole that will certainly yield some birdies, but will not shy away from handing out bogeys or worse.

13. Par-Four Fourth

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    The fourth hole will be a great place for players took pick up a stroke, but only if they find the fairway.

    An ominous bunker lines the right side of the fairway and numerous mounds are in play out to the left.

    The hole may only be 384 yards from the tee to the hole and requires just a short-iron for the second, but off the fairway approaches are difficult.

    From the bunker, a player is pressured to hit his ball cleanly unless he wants to see it end up in the water that lurks in front of the green and of caught in the mounds left, a player faces an awkward stance that makes proceedings none too easy.

    The green is also two-tiered. This ultimately helps players though, funneling balls down to a front-left pin so players don't have to take on the water.

    This is overall not a tough hole, as players only need to put a long-iron into the fairway to setup a short approach to the green.

    If players can't find the short-grass, this hole becomes much less birdieable and leaves them open to a big number on a hole less than 400 yards.

12. Par-Four Sixth

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    The third of the four even-numbered holes on the front nine to make this list (don't worry the fourth one won't come for a while), the sixth serves as another nice chance at birdie early on in the round.

    Another short hole for its par (at 393 yards long), this par-four is, like the fourth, a long-iron off the tee and a short-iron to the green. And also, like the fourth, the tee shot demands a great deal of accuracy.

    On the sixth players must avoid not just the right rough, but the right fairway as well. Tall palm trees just short and right of the green stand in the way of any approach being played from the right, ensuring players who erred that way won't have an easy time.

    Misses in the left rough or bunkers are also blocked by palms, but as long as a player is in the left or the center of the fairway, they will have an easy approach to the green.

    The short par-four is a benign one for players in position and a brute for those forced to take on the palms.

11. Par-Four First

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    In terms of scoring, this is one of the blandest opening holes in golf.

    There are birdies and bogeys to be had here, but neither occur with too much frequency. No player fears or loves the idea of playing this hole.

    For most, the hole is a green hit, two putts and an uninteresting par 4 to start.

    It is nonetheless an intriguing hole.

    The first is still a somewhat short par-four, measuring 423 yards, but forces players to hit to a fairway that isn't remarkably generous. The fairway in fact narrows past 300 yards, turns right and then moves back to the left as it reaches the putting surface.

    Sand bunkers and grass bunkers alike surround the green, making  recovery shots just a bit more difficult.

    The hole definitely has better design qualities than some think, but with pars likely to be the norm here, don't expect anyone to jump for joy when playing the first.

10. Par-Three Third

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    Onto another run-of-the-mill scoring hole, the third hole at the Players offers few tricks and few rewards.

    This par-three, at a length of 177 yards, calls for a short or mid-iron off the tee to a green that slopes toward the front.

    A short club combined with a green that slopes toward the tee box means players will have little trouble stopping the ball once it hits the putting surface.

    However, that doesn't mean the hole is incredibly simple. The green has two tiers, making putting a tougher venture if on the wrong contour and bunkers (both with sand and without) are conducive to easy up-and-downs.

    Overall this is a hole that is easy in some ways and tough in others. Like the first hole, most players should walk off the third with a par and feel little joy or agony from the experience.

9. Par-Four 10th

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    The 10th hole offers an interesting start to the back nine of a player's round.

    The par-four is 424 yards and offers some interesting quirks. Long-bombers may love the sound of that distance, but they can't simply blast it down the fairway and sand wedge it close to the hole.

    The fairway runs out at about 310 yards and only reemerges some 30 yards further down over a fairway cross bunker which deters anyone from attempting that tremendous carry.

    The hole also has a a leftside fairway bunker that features trees able to block out the approach shot of any player it faces.

    Well, unless you're Phil Mickelson (go to 3:34 in the video).

    Nonetheless, missing left can cause tree trouble as can the right.

    To top it all off, the angle of the approach shot is tilted 45 degrees. This subtle twist takes away the straight on shot players would usually face from the fairway, making them far less comfortable when hitting into the green.

    See, the hole is quite a peculiar one to start the back half. The hole is harder than it looks and is sure to trip up a few unsuspecting players this week.

8. Par-Three 13th

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    This hole provides a green worth looking at.

    Playing 181 yards, the 13th at Sawgrass is a medium-size par-three that only asks for somewhere from a mid-iron to high-iron off the tee.

    The dance floor is where the real fun starts.

    With three tiers to navigate, the putting surface can be a tough one for players, especially Charley Hoffman, to conquer.

    The green can also help players too. Like the 16th at Augusta, the putting surface slopes steeply to the left and toward the water that protects the hole all the way down the left side. This allows players to hit tee shots out to the right (in order to avoid flirting with the water) and watch them motor left toward the hole.

    This isn't a birdie hole, as left pin positions still put the water in play and two small, deep bunkers are just off the putting surface to punish loose shots.

    Still, red numbers can be had here with the right shot at the right slope and lead players to keeping all 14 clubs in the bag by the end of the hole.

7. Par-Four Seventh

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    The longest par-four so far, at 442 yards, the seventh has certainly tested players over the years.

    The driving area is actually quite generous, yet players must be careful. A string of three small bunkers are off to the right side and a left miss is potentially even worse.

    A long bunker sits directly left of the fairway, a rather harmless penalty, but with water just left of that bunker and ready to swallow up any pulls that come its way, the left side is definitely to be avoided.

    If a player can get past that trouble (the wide fairway should help), he isn't quite safe yet. That player still has to play his approach shot to one of the least hittable greens on the course, an unenviable task to any.

    The hole tends to play into the wind, only making it longer, but it isn't extremely hard. Players can collect 4s and occasionally 3s as they go into the middle of the round.

    Still, the seventh has gotten plenty of players before and with its length and a tough green to hit, it will continue to do so in 2012 and beyond.

6. Par-Three 17th

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    The most famous hole at Sawgrass is the site of some of the tournament's greatest highs and greatest lows. From Tiger Woods' "better than most" putt and Fred Couples hole-in-three to Paul Goydos water shot in a playoff and Sean O'Hair's quadruple bogey at a critical juncture, the hole has been quite a dramatic one in the tournament's history.

    This all seems somewhat surprising at what should be a simple hole. The 17th plays just 137 yards and the green is big enough to forgive any offline approaches. It's a short-iron or wedge into a large green, why should the best players in the world have any problems?

    First of all, the green doesn't play that big. It is a large surface, but a ridge in the middle makes sure to separate the back half of the green from the front. If the pin is in back, players must take out any green before the ridge unless they want to be left with a 50-footer (and vice versa).

    Oh, and the water that surrounds the entire hole might be another problem. Yes, the shot should still be easy, since the pros rarely miss on short clubs by much but the thought of such an unforgiving hazard messes with players heads.

    With nowhere to bail out around the green, players face the pressure of hitting it solid or bringing a big number into play and possibly costing them any shot at the tournament.

    The penultimate hole at the Stadium Course is surely a fan-favorite and one that will continue to alter tournaments for years to come.

5. Par-Four 15th

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    The last hole before the course's much-hyped closing stretch, the 15th gets lost in the fray among fans sometimes.

    Despite this lack of interest, this hole serves an important purpose. It sets the stage for who will be battling it out over the closing three holes of the tournament.

    Anyway, the 15th is a hole that measures 449 yards. This dogleg right requires a tee shot in the fairway as trees threaten to block approaches shot hit from left or right of the fairway.

    From the short grass, it's not a terribly difficult approach shot to the green, it's a straight-on middle iron to a decently-sized green.

    The green is well-contoured though, forcing players to hit the right level of the green to end up close to the cup.

    The 15th is not the toughest hole on the course, but it does provide a stern challenge. Players must pay attention to this hole before the fantastic finish, otherwise they might fall from contention before they can get to the final three.

4. Par-Four Fifth

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    The second longest par-four at Sawgrass, the 5th also ranks as one of the toughest holes on the course.

    The 471-yard dogleg right is a behemoth (by course standards) that tests from start to finish. Players must hit over water from the tee and avoid a huge, although admittedly benign, bunker that runs down the right side of the fairway.

    They then face a long second shot to a narrow green protected by sand bunkers, grass bunkers, a waste area and palm trees. Clearly there are a lot of obstacles to avoid, and the distance players must hit their approaches also adds to the shot's difficulty.

    After a couple of good chances to get into red figures at holes two and four, five is the place where early momentum can easily be halted. The long par-four can differentiate between hot early runs and low rounds that are here to stay.

    Maybe it's not a 510-yard par-four like some courses have nowadays to produce some bogeys, but the 5th does get the job done at "just" 471.

    Bogeys have piled up here and players who walk off this green with a four are very grateful.

    In a day where more yardage us needed to toughen tracks, the 5th is proof that distance is not all there is to making a tough golf hole.

3. Par-Three Eighth

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    Continuing on the trend of long holes, the par-three eighth at Sawgrass measures a whopping 237 yards, more than 50 yards longer than any other par-three on the course.

    Length definitely is a big factor in making this No. 3 on the list, but that's not all there is to it. While it's bad enough that players must use low-irons or fairway woods when hitting their tee shots, the hole has other pitfalls.

    For one, the green is surrounded by sand bunkers (11 of them in total) and grass bunkers that are tough prospects when it comes to scrambling.

    Along with that, the green is narrow, which makes it tough for such a low-lofted club to find the putting surface, and sloped, which makes putting a much tougher proposition.

    The eighth is one of the most demanding holes on the course, and any player that can claim a birdie here will be stealing from the field.

2. Par-Four 14th

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    The 17th may be the most nerve wracking hole on the course, but the 14th may be the most despised.

    Playing to a length of 481 yards, the hole is the longest par-four on the course and has given many players during the history of the tournament.

    The hole is difficult from the start, as troubling mounds to the right and a waste bunker to the left force penalize any loose tee shots.

    On the approach, players are left with a long shot to a well-contoured green. The putting surface is one of the largest on the course, but few players will find much relief from that.

    If you are hoping for some birdies, don't look to the 14th. The long, dangerous hole gives away precious few of those and stockpiles big numbers instead.

1. Par-Four 18th

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    The toughest hole on the course is also its also its finishing one.

    Wow is this a difficult close to the round. The par-four is 462 yards and is guarded by a huge water hazard all down the left side of the hole.

    The water comes into play on the drive and even a bail out to the right leaves a player dealing with trees on their second shot.

    Even a shot in the fairway doesn't guarantee a par or better. If players are too aggressive, the water is still a huge factor on the left.

    Hitting it out to the right is better but still isn't an incredibly easy up-and-down.

    The PLAYERS has come to some tense conclusions at the 18th hole in the past and will continue to do so in future tournaments.

    No matter what people say about the course, they can't say it's not exciting at the end. The final hole is an appropriate one to facilitate the conclusion to the biggest non-major championship in golf.