There’s always a storyline when it comes to The Players Championship
Many consider it the fifth major. Certainly the participants do. After all, it is The Players Championship.
This is a tournament that every professional golfer wants to win. The setting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is beautiful. The last three holes are awesome. The risk/reward par 5 16th could mean eagle or could mean double bogey. The short par 3 island green that follows is one of the most famous holes in golf. Follow that with a par 4 that has water on the left side from tee to green (what a great title for a column) and you have the setting for remarkable finishes.
It seems that every year The Players Championship has a storyline or two. It may include some great shots. It may involve some memorable calls. In many cases it involves those last three holes. Let’s see what kind of golf fan you are. How many of these moments can you recall?
The Chip In! New Zealander Craig Perks found himself in the final pairing in 2002. He was 3-over par for the day coming to No. 16, but was just one shot back. His second shot on the par 5 headed for the water before settling down in the rough just a few feet from getting wet.
From there, Perks chipped in for eagle. Do you recall that chip in? If you do, you probably realize that it’s not the chip in I’m referring to! Perks went to 17 and made a slippery 28-footer for birdie before getting into trouble off the tee on the final hole.
His third shot airmailed the green and Perks then calmly chipped in AGAIN and won the tournament by two shots!
Alas, his career went south from there as he never won on tour again. In fact, he made just one cut in 33 starts the last two years he competed. But his performance at Sawgrass in 2002 created memories that will last a lifetime, not only for Perks but for all golf fans.
Better Than Most! Tiger Woods faced a ridiculous 60-foot putt on the island green in the third round in 2001. Broadcaster Gary Koch informed the audience how difficult the putt really was as Tiger needed to get the ball just over a ridge before it would pick up speed and break two different ways before reaching the hole.
As Tiger struck the putt and it headed over the ridge, Koch intoned “better than most” once and then uttered those words again as the ball disappeared into the cup. Tiger went on to win the tournament and the phrase still resonates with golf fans everywhere.
Be Right Today! The year was 2000 and this memorable comment came from a golfer himself. Hal Sutton was leading as he played his second to the 18th. As he watched the ball spiral toward the green, his thoughts were picked up by a microphone.
“Be right. Be right today” Sutton said. As the ball settled near the hole, Sutton pumped his right fist saying “YES!”
How many of us have used the phrase on our own shots since that day. Come on, admit it. I know I have said it.
The Seagull! Do you remember when the seagull picked up a golf ball on the 17th green and flew off before dropping the ball into the water? I’ll bet you do. Do you remember the golfer whose ball was pilfered? If you said Brad Fabel you are a true golf fan.
So what was the ruling on this bizarre turn of events in the 1998 Players? Fabel was allowed to replace his ball with no penalty as thousands of fans helped him choose the correct spot. He then proceeded to three-putt for a bogey!
I’m guessing you didn’t know that. Fabel will always be the storyline when it comes to the plucky seagull, which is too bad. Otherwise he might be remembered as the first golfer to ace the 17th, which he did 12 years earlier. There have been others since, but even if there hadn’t been, Fabel will always be linked to the seagull!
So was there a storyline for the 2018 Players Championship? Of course there was. For a while on Sunday the storyline was Tiger Woods. He made a charge, stringing birdies and getting within four shots of the lead, only to plop his tee shot into the water on — what else — the 17th.
But this year the storyline began and ended with the winner of the tournament. Webb Simpson was not on anyone’s radar going into the event. Even though he was a major champion (the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in 2012) he had not won on tour since October of 2013.
His troubles could be traced in large part to the outlawing of the long, anchored putter that he used to win the Open. But Simpson got a tip on putting recently, and it was his putting that carried the day.
He ran in putts from all over the place including “off” the green as he built a big lead. His second round course record tying 63 included a double bogey on the — again, wait for it — 17th! His final round also included a double bogey on the finishing hole. By then however, he had a commanding lead and won by four shots.
Will this be the tournament that propels Simpson back to prominence? It very well could be and that would be pretty big storyline as well!
Al Stephenson is the bowling/golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.
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