May 2, 2013
By Tom Alter, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- This week, THE PLAYERS Championship will be played for the 40th time. Plenty of drama has unfolded during the history of the PGA TOUR's flagship event. There have been heartbreaking collapses and rousing comebacks. There have been soul-crushing water balls on the famed 17th hole, and there have been remarkable finishes on the challenging 18th.
The deepest and strongest field in golf returns to the Stadium Course. In celebration of the 40th playing of THE PLAYERS, here are 40 of the most dramatic moments in the championship’s history.
1. 1982 – The Tournament Players Championship moves to its new, permanent home: TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. The course is unique, beautiful, challenging and fan-friendly. Jerry Pate hit a fabulous 5-iron (with an orange ball) to within 3 feet to seal the victory. Then Pate enjoyed an extraordinary celebration; he threw then-PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman and course designer Pete Dye into the pond near the 18th green during the awards ceremony, and dove into the pond himself for an unprecedented victory lap.
2. 2001 – Tiger Woods climbed into THE PLAYERS lead with an eagle and five birdies during the third round, but he faced a seemingly impossible birdie try at the 17th green. Woods stalked his triple-breaking, downhill, lightning-fast putt that no other player had come close to making. As soon as he hit it, Gary Koch told the NBC audience around the world that Woods’ effort was “better than most.” Koch kept repeating the phrase … until the ball dropped in the hole and the crowd exploded. That one stroke – which turned out to be Woods’ margin of victory – was indeed better than most.
3. 2000 – Paired together for the Monday finish, Tiger Woods eagled the 16th hole to pull within one shot of Hal Sutton. Sutton held onto that slim margin as they headed to the demanding 18th hole. After a perfect drive, Sutton hit a 5-iron toward the final green, and implored: “Be the right club… be the right club today! Yes!” Woods acknowledged Sutton’s clutch shot with a thumbs up. Sutton held off Woods to win his second PLAYERS.
4. 2002 – Not too many golf fans had heard of Craig Perks before the 2002 PLAYERS. Now, nobody will ever forget how Perks finished the tournament. Looking for his first PGA TOUR title, he chipped in for eagle at No. 16, sank a long birdie putt at No. 17 and then chipped in for a par at No. 18. Traditionally, the previous year’s PLAYERS winner hands the trophy to the next champion. An impressed Tiger Woods handed the trophy to Perks and said, “You’re unbelievable.”
5. 2007 – In the third round, Phil Mickelson’s tee shot at the 10th hole found a fairway bunker. His only shot to the green was through a small gap in the trees. The leader couldn’t win the tournament with this one shot, but he could lose it. So “Phil the Thrill” threaded his approach shot through the trees and onto the green. Climbing out of the bunker, he said to his caddie Jim “Bones” McKay, “I didn’t want to tell you what I was doing.” Mickelson went on to win the first PLAYERS in May by two shots.
6. 1996 – Fred Couples was in the midst of one of the best closing rounds in tournament history. He goes for the par-5 16th green in two, but his 3-iron faded toward the pond fronting the right side of the green. Instead of bouncing forward into the water, the ball gently kicked left onto the green. Couples took advantage of the break and made eagle, followed by a birdie at No. 17 for the best closing round in tournament history.
7. 2003 – The final round was played in severe cold and windy conditions. Davis Love III responded with the round of his life. After hitting his tee shot into the trees on the 16th hole, Love capped off his brilliant play by hooking his approach shot onto the par 5 in two shots for an unlikely eagle en route to his second PLAYERS triumph.
8. 1987 – Jeff Sluman sank a long birdie at the final hole to force the first sudden-death playoff at TPC Sawgrass. On the second extra hole (the par-3 17th), Sluman faced a short birdie putt to beat Sandy Lyle. But out of nowhere, a fan dove into the water surrounding the island green. A shaken Sluman backed away from the putt and then missed. Lyle won the title one hole later.
9. 1999 – Jacksonville’s own David Duval had a golden opportunity to win the biggest championship of his career, but his ball was bunkered near the green on No. 9 and his lead was in jeopardy. Instead of losing the lead and perhaps the tournament, Duval holed the bunker shot, won THE PLAYERS and ascended to No. 1 in the world. And he was cheered on by his father, Bob, from his own winner’s press conference on the Champions Tour. Today, they remain the only father-son duo to win on the Champions Tour and PGA TOUR in the same week.
10. 2008 – Sergio Garcia bounced back from a runner-up finish the year before at THE PLAYERS to join a sudden-death playoff with Paul Goydos. For the first time in tournament history, the playoff began at the famed 17th hole. Goydos hit first, but he found the water. Instead of playing safe, Garcia hit to within 5 feet to claim the biggest win of his career.
11. 1974 – For its first three years, the tournament elevated different, pre-existing events already on the PGA TOUR schedule. Fittingly, the greatest major champion to ever live – Jack Nicklaus – carded the lowest final round (67) at Atlanta Country Club to win the inaugural Tournament Players Championship.
12. 1991 – Steve Elkington started the final round four strokes off the lead and was charging up the leader board until his tee shot on the final hole found an old divot in the fairway. He boldly played a brilliant 3-iron out of the divot onto the green and holed an unlikely birdie to win by one.
13. 1980 – After its first three years at various prestigious courses, Sawgrass Country Club hosted The Tournament Players Championship for five consecutive seasons. Perhaps the most dramatic finish featured a wedge shot from Lee Trevino which he hit stiff on the final hole to set up a birdie and a one-shot victory over Ben Crenshaw. Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros finished tied for third on the Hall of Fame-themed leader board.
14. 1977 – During its first year at Sawgrass Country Club, Mark Hayes was faced with a difficult up-and-down from an awkward lie in a greenside bunker at the final hole. Hayes elected to try a risky shot, running a 5-iron up through the sand, which he executed perfectly. His Tournament Players Championship remains his only PGA TOUR victory.
15. 1981 – After journeyman Barry Jaeckel missed a makeable putt for victory on the 72nd hole, two future Hall of Fame members, Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange, joined Jaeckel in the first sudden death playoff in Tournament Players Championship history. Floyd survived with a par on the first extra hole at Sawgrass Country Club. Floyd also won a $250,000 bonus for having won at Doral the week before.
16. 1994 – While together on a golf course design project, Greg Norman told Pete Dye that he’s going to chew up TPC Sawgrass, and he didn’t disappoint. The Shark opened with a course-record 63 and followed with three straight rounds of 67 to shatter the tournament record at 24 under. Before he tapped in to win, playing competitor Fuzzy Zoeller wiped the brow of the red-hot Norman with a towel.
17. 1988 – Jacksonville’s hometown hero Mark McCumber enjoyed a victory lap at the Stadium Course. He posted rounds of 67-69 on the weekend for an easy four-shot victory, then broke into tears as he walked up 18. During the walk, he saw a sign proclaiming him as “Jacksonville’s own.”
18. 1983 – As designed, the closing three holes at the Stadium Course produced an exciting climax for the Tournament Players Championship. Hal Sutton, making his first start in the event, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to offset a bogey at No. 18 for a one-stroke victory. In just his second full season on the PGA TOUR, Sutton impressively claims both a PLAYERS title and a PGA Championship.
19. 1978 – Cold, windy weather battered the competitors at Sawgrass Country Club. Only one player broke 70 on the weekend. And Jack Nicklaus survived with a final-round 75 to win by one stroke and claim his third Tournament Players Championship. He remains the only three-time winner in tournament history.
20. 1985 – Nobody ever hit the ball straighter than Calvin Peete. His precision paid off with five birdies over the final 10 holes, including a tap-in at No. 17 that opened a three-shot lead. When he walked up the fairway at No. 18, the first African-American to win THE PLAYERS doffed his cap to the cheering crowd. Later, he said he was thinking, “I have reached the mountain top.”
21. 1982 – THE PLAYERS moves across the street from Sawgrass Country Club to its permanent home at TPC Sawgrass. The golf course was inspired by then-PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman’s vision for stadium golf and designed by famed architect Pete Dye to favor no one but challenge all. The course forever changes the way tournament golf is staged.
22. 2004 – Adam Scott seemed destined for greatness. At only 23 years of age, the Australian stood in the 18th fairway with a two-shot lead about to become THE PLAYERS’ youngest champion. But when he pulled a 3-iron into the pond left of the green and left his chip shot 10 feet short of the hole, he faced the most dramatic moment of his young career. And he delivered by pouring in his bogey putt to secure a one-shot victory.
23. 2005 – Just one year removed from seeing the youngest champion in PLAYERS history, Fred Funk became the oldest. With 35-mph winds whipping the Stadium Course, Funk used his local knowledge to get up and down at 18 from the greenside bunker and preserve a one-shot victory.
24. 1975 – Famed Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, hosts the second Tournament Players Championship. Al Geiberger is the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at “Hogan’s Alley” to become the first wire-to-wire champion in tournament history.
25. 1984 – Fred Couples cards a course-record 64 in the second round to hold off a string of major championship winners (Trevino, Ballesteros, Stadler, Wadkins, O’Meara, Price and Watson) and win by one.
26. 1993 – Nick Price was on the cusp of becoming the No. 1 player in the world. A win at THE PLAYERS would go a long way to help that cause. However, on the short-but-demanding par-4 fourth hole, Price’s tee shot came to rest on the lip of a fairway bunker. With one foot in the bunker, Price took a baseball swing and hit the ball within a foot for a tap-in birdie. He later described it as “the greatest shot of my life.” He won by five strokes.
27. 1998 – Len Mattiace pulled into contention in the final round, yet he knew that he needed another birdie or two coming in for any chance to achieve his first PGA TOUR victory. He grew up in Jacksonville, and his mother cheered him on from a wheelchair just outside the ropes as he approached the 17th tee. Mattiace was posing as he hit his 9-iron right at the flag, but it flew too long and into the water. He suffered a heartbreaking 8 on the par 3 and finished T5.
28. 1986 – Larry Mize blew a four-shot lead heading into the final round with four bogeys in the last five holes. A determined John Mahaffey tapped in and fired his visor into the pond to celebrate the win.
29. 2012 – Matt Kuchar escaped a fairway bunker at the difficult, par-4 14th hole with a clutch 5-iron out of the sand, over the trees and onto the green for a par en route to victory. The club he used for this great save is now on display in the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse – with donated clubs from each past champion.
30. 1992 – As he was about to hit a chip shot back onto the No. 8 green in the final round, Davis Love III overheard spectators betting on whether he could get up and down. Love promptly chipped in and tells the guys in the gallery who bet against him, “I hope all of you lost.” Love didn’t lose on Sunday; he won by four shots for his first PLAYERS title.
31. 1995 – After getting up and down from the pot bunker at the 17th hole to protect a one-shot lead, Lee Janzen faced another do-or-die moment on the final hole: a 5-foot putt to win the championship. The two-time U.S. Open winner buried it for the win.
32. 1990 – Mark Calcavecchia mounted a final-round charge to pull within one shot of leader Jodie Mudd as they both stood on the 17th tee. “Calc” hit safely into the middle of the green, while Mudd fired right at the flagstick. Calcavecchia looked right at Mudd and said, “Tell me you pushed that. I mean he’s good, but he ain’t that good.” Mudd admitted he had pushed it a little bit, then made the birdie putt and claimed the biggest victory of his career.
33. 2010 – David Toms looked like he was going to rejuvenate his career with a victory at THE PLAYERS, right up until the second shot at the par-5 16th. The safe play would be to lay up and try to make birdie using the strength of his game: precise wedge play. Instead, he went for the green in two shots and blocked it into the water. He rebounded with a 20-foot birdie putt at the final hole to force a playoff with K.J. Choi, but at the first extra hole, Toms missed a short par putt. Choi became THE PLAYERS’ first Asian champion.
34. 1997 – With his second PLAYERS already in the bag, Steve Elkington chipped in for a final birdie to set the all-time tournament record for largest margin of victory at seven shots.
35. 2007 – Sean O’Hair had only won once on the PGA TOUR when he stood on the 17th tee, two shots behind Phil Mickelson with two holes to play. O’Hair went for the win and went for the pin, but his ball flew over the flagstick and over the green into the water. He posted a deflating quadruple-bogey 7, but gained fans for his gutsy play and graciousness in defeat.
36. 2001 – Vijay Singh was making a final-round charge to catch Tiger Woods when his second shot at the par-5 16th came to rest against the collar of the green. He decided he couldn’t really putt it nor chip it. So he flipped his putter on its side and used the toe to nudge the ball toward the hole – and in for a remarkable eagle. He finished in second place, just one shot back.
37. 1999 – There have been six holes-in-one at No. 17 during THE PLAYERS and more than 8,000 pars on the island green in tournament history. But two-time winner Fred Couples combined the best of both worlds when, after dumping his tee shot in the water, he re-teed and holed his third shot on the fly for a hole-in-three, the most dramatic par in tournament history.
38. 2001 – During the second round, Hal Sutton holed out from the fairway at the short, par-4 fourth hole for an eagle. On Sunday, he holed out for eagle again to become the only player in tournament history to make two eagles on the same par 4 in one week.
39. 2007 – With much fanfare, THE PLAYERS moves to its new date in May and into a 77,000 square-foot, Mediterranean-revival style clubhouse.
40. 1998 – After much effort, a seagull picks up the ball of Brad Fabel from the 17th green. With the crowd cheering it on, the seagull flies off with the ball, but, like so many golfers, drops it into the water.