Poulter Dials in Style on 17

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It is a dubious distinction. And that, of course, is because nobody really wants to be the guinea pig.
 
Last year at The PLAYERS the guinea pig was Englands Paul Casey. Because his was the first group off the 10th tee on Thursday; and because he birdied the 16th hole, Casey had the honor on 17.
 
Which meant that he would be the first player to have to pull a club and face the horrors of the most feared little hole in golf, the island green penultimate at the Stadium Course of the TPC Sawgrass.
 
Long story short: Casey was tied for the lead when he reached the 17th that day. His 9-iron was short and it got wet. That led to a triple bogey 6 which led to Casey eventually missing the cut by miles.
 
It was a good round of golf, Casey said of Thursday in 2007. Until 17.
 
New story: Yet another Englishman, the colorful Ian Poulter, was the guinea pig Thursday.
 
This time there was a much happier ending. Playing in a threesome that included Rich Beem and Ken Duke, Poulter was 1-under and owned the honor when his group reached the John Hancock of American golf signature holes.
 
Yes, Poulter would say after his round. I was well aware that I was the first to play the hole.
 
The advantage was that it was still early in the day. The helping breeze from left to right was relatively calm. The distance to the hole was 148 yards. Poulter grabbed a pitching wedge and confidently drilled it to 20 feet.
 
Its a lot easier being the guinea pig, he said, when the wind isnt blowing 40 miles an hour.
 
Yes, he actually referred to himself as the guinea pig.
 
Earlier defending champion Phil Mickelson had remarked that the 17th doesnt challenge a players creativity. Its more about survival. Masters champion Trevor Immelman said the hole wasnt in his top 10 favorite holes.
 
Tiger Woods, absent from this years PLAYERS while recovering from knee surgery, is on record as saying the 17th would be better served as the eighth hole of the day, not the second-to-last.
 
The fact of the matter is the 17th is the eighth hole for half the field on the first two days because the TOUR sends players off the first and 10th tees.
 
In general, the 17th at Sawgrass is in fast company among terrific golf courses that boast par 3s as their No. 17. The list of those tracks includes Quail Hollow, Pebble Beach, Oakland Hills, Harbour Town, Bay Hill, Shinnecock Hills and Loch Lomond, just to name a few.
 
When Jonathan Byrd dunked his iron at 17 moments after 3 p.m. Thursday it marked the seventh player to find the water. Fact is, conditions were more benign on Day One with just 20 finding the drink as compared to last year when 50 balls found the pond in the first round.
 
Meanwhile back at Ian Poulter, when he converted the 20-footer at 17, it spurred him on to a birdie on the monstrously-long par 4 18th and he found himself temporarily tied for the lead.
 
By the time he got to the long par 5 ninth hole, his 18th of the day, Poulter had dropped back to 2-under. His tee ball found the deep right rough from where he hacked an iron into wedge range.
 
This time, he said, he wanted the wedge to carry 129 yards. When his ball stopped 4-feet from the hole on one of the most difficult greens on the course, Poulter reckoned his wedge had carried precisely 129 yards.
 
He converted the birdie putt and happily signed for 69, which left him three shots behind early first-round leader Sergio Garcia.
 
So for 2008, at least, being the guinea pig had turned out to be not such a bad thing after all.
 

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