Short And Sweat

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2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Paul Casey was going to be the guinea pig and he knew it.
 
He and Nathan Green and Charles Warren were the first threesome off the 10th tee Thursday morning at THE PLAYERS.
 
Which meant they would be the first group to reach the infamous island green that defines the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
 
So when Casey two-putted for birdie in the swirling, gusty winds at the par-5 16th it boosted him into a tie for the lead. It also earned him the honor on the next tee.
 
Dubious honor.
 
Thats always the problem with making birdie on 16, Casey said, moments after carding a 76 that could have been much better. There is a downside.
 
What Casey didnt know but might have guessed was that 17 would play the most difficult on the golf course in Rd. 1. Of the first 100 players that tested their mettle in the swirling winds, only 54 would find the putting surface; 33 of those first 100 would find the water.
 
The actual distance from the tee to the hole location at 17 Thursday was 128 yards. Casey figured it was 136 to the ridge in the middle of the green. And thats where he was aiming when he struck his 9-iron.
 
His ball, according to the TOURs Shotlink computers, traveled 124 yards. And found a watery grave. That left Casey, who arrived at the 17th 2 under on his round, with an awkward 92-yard pitch from the drop area. That shot didnt stop until it had rolled to the back of the green. Three putts later Casey had a triple bogey six from which he never really recovered.
 
It was a good round of golf, he said. Until 17. Bogeys followed on Nos. 18, 3, 7 and 8.
 
Casey is the 13th-ranked player in the world. And he took his medicine like an adult. Earlier this week Tiger Woods used the word gimmicky to describe the 17th. Casey, to his credit, didnt take the bait.
 
It is what it is, Casey said of, arguably, the most dangerous hole in golf. This is a great golf course. And 17 doesnt let the rest of the golf course down.
 
I do think they made it smaller, though, Casey said with a trace of humor. But I have no proof.
 
Woods had also suggested that 17 would be better positioned as the eighth hole. His contention was that the island green makes for too much drama on the 71st hole of the golf tournament late Sunday.
 
The irony is that 17 WAS the eighth hole of the day for Casey, Woods and everybody else who teed off on the back side. Woods managed a par at 17. But, ironically, he missed a 2-foot par putt on the eighth, his 17th of the day.
 
Woods, by the way, also pitched a shutout. The worlds No. 1 made no birdies and bogeyed three of his last six holes for an untidy 75.
 
But Casey had been the guinea pig and when he dunked that 9-iron it meant he was the first of many to get wet on 17. His 6 on the hole was the 173rd triple bogey in the history of the event.
 
TPC Sawgrass officials estimate that 120,000 golf balls a year are lost in the waters that surround the island green. Most of the year the golf course is open, for a stout greens fee, to the public.
 
Woods, by the way, was remarkably upbeat after his round in which too few putts dropped into the hole. Hit, he said, and pray.
 
Hopefully, you dont get the wrong gust at the wrong time, because you can look like a real idiot, he said of the winds that rarely dipped below 20 miles per hour all day. It got so bad at one point officials had to stop play on the eighth to use blowers to clear debris from the green.
 
Perhaps the most amazing accomplishment Thursday was Rory Sabbatini getting to 6 under through 15 holes. He finished with 67.
 
Meanwhile the only certainty here for the weekend is that there will be more train wrecks on the penultimate hole. When conditions get difficult here, the focal point of every round automatically becomes the island green.
 
I thought it was well-struck, Casey said of his 9-iron on 17. I was wrong.
 

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