First-timers try to tame Sawgrass at The Players Championship


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In 30 years of hosting The Players Championship, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has been tamed by only three players on their first try.

Jerry Pate won the first staging of the event here in 1982. A year later, Hal Sutton prevailed in his first Sawgrass start. Another 19 years passed before Craig Perks survived the final stretch to win the '02 title.

First-timer Scott Stallings saw firsthand what it took for Perks get to the finish line.

'I remember watching Perks win,” he said Wednesday. “You could tell the wheels were starting to come off a bit, but he had some great chips on 16 and 18 to win.'

Stallings was first alternate here a year ago, getting to go through the dress rehearsal before playing. He had a pleasant first experience before a wake-up call.

'The first time I played No. 17, I birdied it. The next few times, I went in the water and realized it wasn't so easy,' he said.

Canadian Graham Delaet was gutted not to play here last year due to injury and is excited to be in this palpably different atmosphere.

'The pressure here is very different,' he said. 'I've never played in a major, but this event has a distinctly different feel than every other I've played.'

Experience was almost universally stressed by the rookies. J.J. Killeen played a practice round with '07 winner Phil Mickelson, who needed 14 tries to conquer TPC Sawgrass.

'I played with Phil and Brendan Steele, and they both said to simply play the course as much as you can,' Killeen said.

Jacksonville Beach native Matt Every has done just that, playing here many times with fellow pros like Bud Cauley or his buddies. He is disregarding that experience this week.

'The course is totally different for the tournament,' he said. 'The greens run as 12s (on the Stimpmeter) instead of 8s. The ball runs 40 yards further. There are guys in the field who have played the course this way for 10 or 20 years, but I haven't.'

Every, however, has seen the Stadium Course's most famous hole differently than most in the field.

'My buddies and I go behind the tee at No. 17 to the back of the hole and play if from 180 yards,' he said, 'to make it more fun.'