Sawgrass: Inside Track
Our man at the course Harry Emanuel gives you the rundown on this week’s Players Championship at Sawgrass.
The Players Championship
Course: TPC Sawgrass
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Low Winning Total: 264 Greg Norman (1994)
Course Record: 63 Fred Couples (1992) Greg Norman (1994)
Cut: After 36 holes, low 70 and ties
Tee Off: Thursday BST: 12:15
TPC Sawgrass has been the host venue for The Players Championship, the self styled ‘fifth major’, since 1982.
This is the 36th running of The Players Championship and one of the strongest fields of the year has assembled with 29 of the top 30 players in the World Rankings in attendance.
The field includes 10 past champions: Henrik Stenson (2009), Sergio Garcia (2008), Phil Mickelson (2007), Stephen Ames (2006), Fred Funk (2005), Adam Scott (2004), Davis Love III (2003 & 1992), Tiger Woods (2001), Justin Leonard (1998) and Lee Janzen (1995).
Last Time Out
Stenson entered the final round five shots behind overnight leader Alex Cejka. He carded a bogey free final round 6 under par 66 to earn a one stroke victory over England’s Ian Poulter.
The five stroke come-from-behind victory equalled the second largest in tournament history tying Justin Leonard in 1998 and trailing only Raymond Floyd’s six stroke rally in 1981.
The victory by Sweden’s Stenson was the third by an international player at this event in the last four years.
TPC Sawgrass was designed in 1979 by Pete Dye who is also responsible for Harbour Town Golf links and Whistling Straits. It is a tree-lined course with multiple water hazards and raised greens protected by bunkers and run off areas.
In 2007 the tournament date was changed from March to May and Sawgrass underwent a $60 million redevelopment.
Extensive drainage was added to the fairways and the sub-air system used at Augusta was installed under the greens. Holes 1, 8, 11, 14, 16 and 18 were lengthened by a total of 125 yards and every green was re-grassed with mini-verde Bermuda.
With trees, water hazards and bunkers on many of the holes players cannot afford to be wayward off the tee. The course demands accuracy rather than power and three of the last five champions were ranked first in driving accuracy for the week.
The change of date from March to May means the Bermuda rough is not over seeded and now the rough is two inches thick rather than five. This year, due to a cold winter, the rough is patchy in places and even shorter than last year.
Players are able to progress the ball towards the hole but will often get a ‘flier lie’ which makes it difficult to hold the green.
The fairways funnel balls off the tee to the same areas and players generally hit their second shots from similar spots making Sawgrass primarily a second shot golf course. Four of the last six winners led the field in greens in regulation.
The Bermuda greens are small, fast and contoured. The Sub air system allows the organisers to control the speed of the greens and they should remain constant at 12 on the stimpmeter throughout the week.
With such small greens even the most accurate players will miss them and need to get up and down. The run off areas, bunkers and rough around the greens demand a variety of different shots and Sawgrass will be a test of scrambling as much as anything else.
Four of the last seven winners were inside the top ten for scrambling getting up and down 70% of the time.
“You’ve got to drive the ball real good. It’s difficult to control the ball out of the rough as you often get a flier and end up missing the green and then it’s difficult to get up and down.”
“I think tee shots probably favor the guy that’s a little bit more accurate and can work the ball a little bit more” – Jim Furyk
“When the course changed to mini verde it made a big difference. I think the ball rolls so much better. And the less rough as opposed to having big, thick hay, having shots that are fliers, and you’re able to up and down around the greens or at least have a chance has made the golf course more challenging” – Phil Mickelson
“Greens are running at a good pace. They were a bit softer than expected. I spoke to a few guys, they said it’s going to firm up.” – Henrik Stenson
Horses for Courses
The only players to have won the tournament twice are Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington (Jack Nicklaus is the only three time winner of the event).
The top two players in the world Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have both won the tournament once but have just seven other top ten finishes in 28 starts.
The player with the best recent record is defending Champion Henrik Stenson with a victory, two other top tens and a 23rd place finish. History is against him this week as no one has successfully defended the title.
The signature hole is the par three 17th. At only 137 yards on the scorecard it may seem pretty innocuous but players hit into an island green completely surrounded by water and there is no bail out area. Scores have ranged from holes in one to Bob Tway’s 12 in 2005.
Although the focus of attention is always on the 17th, the 18th has become the second most difficult finishing hole on the PGA Tour over the last ten years.
It is demanding tee shot over water and the approach is to a small undulating green with water on the left. Last year there were 53 birdies, 107 bogeys and 23 doubles or worse.
Wind is often a major factor at Sawgrass, especially at the 17th. In calm conditions last year only 32 balls went into the water compared to 93 in very windy conditions in 2007.
This wind always gets up in the afternoon and is expected to blow around 10-15mph each day. Warm and humid weather is forecast with temperatures in the high 80’s.
Many different types of golfer have won over the years at Sawgrass as it doesn’t suit any particular style of play. Accuracy off the tee is more important than power but a combination of good iron play and scrambling is often the deciding factor.
Heavy rain has left the course playing soft so players will be more aggressive tee to green and with slightly less rough than previous years the scores should be lower.
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