The par-three 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass, home of alligators and nightmares, has played a starring role at The Players since 1982. That's when the TPC Sawgrass was introduced to an unsuspecting world and shocked PGA Tour players by being a lot of unprintable expletives.
Now the 17th is no longer the star. It is part of a threesome, joining the par-five 16th and the par-four 18th in an aggregate three-hole playoff.
It's more agony for competitors who are lucky enough to tie at a winning score and more car wrecks for fans who like watching golf balls land in the water as gators glide stealthily around the island green and seemingly trained seagulls snatch golf balls from the putting surfaces. (Yes, that has happened.)
“Holes 16, 17 and 18 of The Players Stadium Course are perhaps the most dramatic closing holes in professional golf from a risk-reward standpoint, as they test all facets of a player’s physical and mental game while under the pressure of trying to win such a significant championship,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. “Given the fact that winning The Players means you have defeated the strongest field in golf, we felt an aggregate playoff that incorporated these three holes was a more appropriate way to determine the champion.”
“We welcome the new playoff format, which will add even more excitement to this great event,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group. "Playing these final three dramatic holes in a playoff will be an exceptional and appropriate test for The Players."
Of course, if golfers are still tied after the aggregate three-hole playoff, then they go to the 17th tee to start sudden death.
Both the PGA Championship and the British Open use aggregate-score playoffs to determine a winner. The PGA Championship adopted a three-hole playoff in 2000, and the British Open uses four holes, a format it added in 1989.
With the aggregate system, there can still be a tie after those three holes. If so, players go directly to the 17th for sudden death. So the 17th may still be the deciding factor in determining a winner. If no one wins after the 17th, then players will go to the 18th, 16th, 17th and 18th until someone wins.
Regardless of where it starts, all three holes involve water on one side or the other, or in the case of the 17th, all around. The PGA Tour points to the holes as having high risk-reward factors, but that's golf-speak for better-than-average chances of losing your golf ball in a very damp place.
The 16th, while a reachable, dogleg-left par-five, has a green bulk headed by railroad ties and flanked on the right side by water. The 17th has a railroad tie bulkhead all around it and a moat of water. And the 18th, a medium-length par-four that gently bends left, has water and bulkhead on the left from tee to green.
Interestingly, during The Players, the 16th typically plays as one of the easiest holes at the TPC Sawgrass and the 18th plays the hardest. The 17th is just a pain in the keester.
According to the PGA Tour, since 1983, single-round performances on the final three holes range from four under (the lowest) to 12 over (the highest).
In the past, there have been three playoffs at the TPC Sawgrass in The Players, and while two ended at the 17th, all were really decided there.
In 1987, Sandy Lyle defeated Jeff Sluman with a par on the third playoff hole, the 18th. Sluman had a birdie putt at the 17th to win, and a spectator dove into the 17th pond just as he was ready to stroke his putt. A shaken Sluman did not make birdie, and the playoff was extended another hole, where Lyle won.
In 2008, Sergio Garcia defeated Paul Goydos with a par on the first playoff hole, the 17th.
In 2011, K.J. Choi defeated David Toms with a par on the first playoff hole, the 17th.
The Players Championship begins May 8.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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