It is estimated that each year nearly 100,000 golf balls – really – are retrieved from the cursed water guarding the 16th hole and surrounding the famed island green of the par-3 17th here at TPC Sawgrass. Seems high, but it makes for a good story.
If true, the fish within must wear hardhats. And the frogs never get wet crossing this lake – they just hop from one shoal of Titleists to the next.
A mere six more joined the list of lost balls at No. 17 on Friday during the second round of the Players Championship – way below the daily average when the far less gifted civilians swarm the place.
That an inordinate number of those – two – belonged to a single player sent a chill throughout the grounds. Those two completely changed the personality of this almost-major, when Tiger Woods decided to play the hole like a nervous tourist from Hoboken down to his last sleeve of balls.
And to think that as he stood on the tee at 17 on Friday morning, Woods was in full assault mode. Beginning his round on the back nine, he had birdied three of his first seven holes – and had reasonable looks for birdie at a couple of others. He had moved to 5 under par and into a tie for eighth, two back of the lead at that moment. His detractors may not like it, but it’s true: There is nothing so electrified in golf as a tournament round in which Woods has it going.
And just like that, he unplugged the place.
It was only a soft wedge to a hole 146 yards downrange. The conditions were benign. For all the dread reputation of this scary little hole, it never much disturbed Woods in the past, having put only four balls in the water through 68 previous rounds. It was the scene of an epic 60-foot birdie putt that defined his Players championship in 2001. Just Thursday, he dared flirt with a difficult, front-forward pin position and came away with birdie.
His tee shot Friday hit toward the back of the green, skittered over the tongue of land that serves as a bridge and tumbled into the water. Lip-readers in the audience noted that Woods was foully displeased. “I was a bit surprised it went that far,” he said afterward. “I took something off that wedge, and it flew a lot further than I thought. The other guys took a little read off of that.”
In a Golf World story, the old pro Paul Goydos said of No. 17: “The hardest shot on that hole is the one after you hit into the water.”
From the drop area Friday, Woods might concur. That shot was just plug-ugly, a clumsy thing, hit thinly, that bounced once and then found a watery resting place. “I hit it too flat,” Woods explained.
Rather than walking up to the drop zone, he had considered hitting a second time from the tee. “But I figured I can handle an 80-yard shot – and obviously I can't,” he said wryly.
There are sad sagas other than the day Woods took a quadruple-bogey 7, just the second time he went so high on a par-3 hole in a long career. Who will ever match Bob Tway’s four-in-the-water-and-a-three-putt 12 back in 2005? But no other misadventure deflated a Players Championship quite like this one.
Woods gathered himself, credit him for that. And there was some weight to his statement: “Other than 17 today, I really haven't done a whole lot wrong.” Even if that did sound like someone saying, “Other than hitting that bus head-on, I really enjoyed the drive.”
He shot 2 under the rest of the way to finish off a second-round 71, and secured himself on the right side of the cut line at 3 under for the tournament.
He found some comfort in a weekend forecast of blustery, far more difficult conditions. Another man’s distress is his best hope now. “Anyone who makes the cut has a chance to win this golf tournament,” Woods maintained.
Truthfully, his 3 under is but a speck in the rearview mirror of a whole caravan of contenders.
Just to name a few of the 38 players stationed above him on the leaderboard:
A European Ryder Cup team has occupied the upper reaches of the tournament. Rory McIlroy shot 65 and assumed a share of the lead at 12 under. First-round leader Tommy Fleetwood began his Friday going 4 under through his first three holes, holing a 45-foot bunker shot on the par-5 second hole for eagle. He rode that wave all the way to the end of Friday, shooting 67 and also going into the weekend at 12 under.
Two back of them is Ian Poulter, who shot 69 on Friday.
Speaking of the Ryder Cup: When last we saw 48-year-old Jim Furyk he was captaining the sinking ship that was the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He did a much better job of guiding himself around TPC Sawgrass on Friday. A Jacksonville native, he had played 79 Players Championship rounds before Friday. None of them were as low as the 64 he shot in the second round.
“I definitely don't hit it very far anymore, and I need to kind of pick and choose the golf courses that suit my style and my game,” Furyk said. “I think really for me, my secret is being healthy. I really just haven't been healthy.”
And a daily former Bulldog report is becoming mandatory here. Three of them – Brian Harman (9 under), Kevin Kisner and Keith Mitchell (8 under) – make up one-third of the top nine players in the tournament. It was Mitchell who made the biggest move of the three Friday, shooting 31 on the back side on his way to a 65.
But batten down, boys. “It's going to be a whole new golf tournament starting tomorrow with the different conditions,” warned Kisner, who lost a four-hole playoff here to Rickie Fowler in 2015.
All of them, every one, had a single happy thing in common Friday: None of them had turned No. 17 into a soap opera. Not yet.
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