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“There’s nothing you can do”

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. β€” Shortly after noon ET Saturday, the first casualties arrived on the 17th hole of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Scottie Scheffler, who had won two of his last three PGA Tour starts, drew the short straw as the players resumed and was the first player to hit a tee shot on the par-3 17th, which is the one of the most entertaining or infamous holes in golf.

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Scheffler descended from the tee box for the correct distance and measured the 35 mph wind blowing in his face as he looked over the island green (really a peninsula) at No. 17. The Texan turned set up on a 7 iron and hit a low ball His shot is too long, the ball bounces once before falling into the pond behind the green.

After watching what Scheffler did, Xander Schauffele, the seventh-ranked player in the world and Olympic gold medalist, chose an 8-iron. hole of the last round of the 2021 Masters, and his ball fell into the pond before the green, then he went to quadruple the 18th hole.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka also opted to hit an 8-iron. Like Schauffele’s, his shot was awfully short and ended up getting wet.

Just like that, three of the best players in the world saw their chances of winning the Players Championship (or even making the cut) evaporate on the 17th hole. ended up making a bogey, he made a quadruple bogey 8 on the 18th hole.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Koepka said. “We hit a flurry. I don’t think it got any harder for anyone else here than when me, Scottie and Alex played there. When we started it was my first shot of the day, and I thought it was the one that was blowing the most.”

In fact, the wind didn’t calm down for just about everyone on Saturday. After heavy rain and thunderstorms suspended play on Thursday and Friday, players completing the first round and entering the second were greeted by much cooler temperatures and gusty winds. which reached up to 43 mph.

On Thursday and Friday combined, the players’ aggregate score on the 17th hole was 3. There were only four balls hit in the water and there were 22 birdies. On Saturday, the aggregate score was 66. There were 29 balls hit in the water. water and only two birdies. Five of the first eight players sent their ball into the drink.

The worst thing for Koepka, Schauffele and Scheffler on Saturday was that they had to play the 17th hole twice, having completed their last three holes of the first round and then started the second round on the No. 10. It was like having to play Gonzaga first and second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The results were better for only Schauffele, who hit his tee shot 53 feet out and two putts for par. Scheffler’s second attempt at 17 was even worse, as he hit a pipe rocket which crashed into the pond halfway between the green and the old flower barge.

Koepka’s tee shot was about 70 yards short and wet, Scheffler made a double bogey and Koepka hit a triple.

“It’s luck,” Koepka said. “It’s one of those things that you just try to hit the right shot. It’s like anything. You try to hit the right shot, and hopefully it doesn’t burst or go out. no. second you do it.”

No one has had better luck on the hole than Koepka, who is 20 years older than 17th in seven player appearances since 2015.

Jeff Young, a longtime observer for NBC Sports, said he worked the 17th hole for 20 years. Until this year, he recalled only two players – Fred Funk and Loren Roberts – hitting a 7-iron on the par-3 hole. On Saturday, nine of the top 15 players hit a 7-iron. Matt Kuchar hit a 7-iron 6.

The club selection caused a lot of anxiety between the caddy and the players. Just after Billy Horschel hit his shot with a 7-iron, with the ball still in the air, he told his caddie, Mark Fulcher, “It’s on the green, Fooch. I knew it! I knew it! knew! I steal it better than everyone else.” Fulcher stood stoically and said nothing. Horschel bogeyed a triple 6 and dropped four shots on the last two holes of the first round.

With the wind behind him on the par-5 16th hole, Koepka said he hit a 7-iron from about 205 yards out. On the 17th hole, his ball traveled 105 yards with the same club. Rory McIlroy’s 7-iron went 123 yards on the 17th hole; it normally hits him between 185 and 190 yards.

“You look over there, and it’s such a big target to hit the green,” McIlroy said. “Basically, it’s a big, massive dartboard, and you’re like, ‘Just hit it anywhere out there.'”

It was easier said than done, even for the best iron players in the world. Any hit on the green – or even just on the island and in the dry – was considered a win. Australian Marc Leishman punched and wiggled after hitting his shot from 7ft. Zach Johnson, the next American Ryder Cup captain, hit his shot from around 63 feet. Jokingly, he raised his right fist in celebration.

Not everyone struggled. Justin Thomas played the 17th twice on Saturday and came away with a pair of pars. Thomas said he received text messages Friday night from Tiger Woods and Fred Couples teasing him about how difficult the hole was. .

“They both gave me a hard time last night about how hard it was going to be [on Saturday]”, Thomas said. “I really enjoyed that from them when they weren’t playing and I had to do it, however difficult it was going to be. … It’s a lot more fun when someone tells you a story of them doing this versus you gotta do it.”

After Henrik Stenson hit his ball safely onto the green with an 8-iron, longtime caddy Gareth Lord reached into his bag for a cigarette.

“On the green, I’m looking forward to this one,” Lord said.

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