The watery 17th features wind, length ... and some nasty bunkers. (Greenwood/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
For all the golf mayhem that has been created at PGA National’s “Bear Trap,” it was pointed out to designer and namesake Jack Nicklaus a couple of years ago that the Honda Classic’s feisty three-hole stretch had yet to snare anyone in the heat of Sunday contention.
Nicklaus’ response? “It will one of these days,” he said.
Oddly enough, we’re still waiting. When it happens, though, the most likely location would appear to be the par-3 17th.
“I think [No.] 17 is probably the toughest shot, just from a personal standpoint,” said Luke Donald, the 2006 Honda champion before its move to PGA National and runner-up in 2008.
Veteran Robert Allenby once said: “On Sunday when the pin is in the back right on No. 17, this is the hardest hole we play on Tour.”
At 190 yards, No. 17 is actually shorter than two of the other par-3s on the Champion layout. But the flight path is entirely over a pond, with water curling around the right side of the green and toward the back.
In addition, the prevailing wind – which often blows strong in March – pushes everything toward the water. If you want to play safe, the green’s left side slopes toward a collection area. A deep bunker sits off the back left.
“You either have go for the pin and be brave and hold your ball against the wind,” said reigning champion Rory McIlroy, “or you're going left into a horrible bunker.”
Tiger Woods offered: “There's really no bailout. You have to hit a good shot.”
Woods offered an example during last year’s Sunday 62, draining a 25-foot putt that ignited a birdie/eagle finish.
No. 17 was rather benign until Nicklaus ramped up the difficulty during his 1990 redesign, moving the green closer to the water. But he admitted two years ago that he didn’t fully anticipate just how strong the breeze can blow.
Two years ago, No. 17 produced 65 balls in the water – more than any other par-3 on the PGA TOUR that year, including the island 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
“We didn't realize the wind was going to play such a difficult situation and play havoc with everything they do,” Nicklaus said.
McIlroy and Woods, by the way, both emerged unscathed from four trips through No. 17 last year. The standard belongs to Jason Bohn, who has yet to make anything worse than par there in 14 plays entering this week.