We look back at 20 of the most memorable moments in the history of The Players Championship.
1 / 20
Sandy Lyle and Jeff Sluman both birdied the 72nd hole, creating a two-man playoff. On the second extra hole, the par-3 17th, Sluman had a 6-foot birdie putt that would have given him his first Tour win. But as he prepared to stroke the ball, a male spectator jumped into the water, causing Sluman to back off the putt. After the spectator was removed by security, Sluman hit the putt, but missed. His par sent the playoff to the 18th hole, where Lyle won with a 7-foot par putt. ''I was ready to pull the trigger when he jumped in,'' Sluman said. ''I might have made the putt, but we'll never know.''
2 / 20
Fred Funk will never be mistaken for a power hitter, but it was his ability to keep the ball in play while battling 25 mph winds that enabled him to become, at age 48, the oldest Players Championship winner. Funk cemented his one-stroke victory over Tom Lehman, Luke Donald and Scott Verplank by getting up and down from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole, sinking a 5-foot par putt for the win.
3 / 20
For a hole as famous – or infamous – as the island-green 17th, you would think the first PGA Tour player to make a hole-in-one there would be well known. But unless you answered, “Brad Fabel, in 1986,” you would be wrong. Fabel is connected with another memorable moment at the 17th, but again, not a lot of people know it. Google “Seagull steals golf ball from 17th green,” and most of the references are to Steve Lowery. But it was actually Fabel’s ball that was taken by the bird and dropped into the water. The rules were kind to Fabel – he was allowed to replace the ball as near as possible to its original spot – even if history was not.
4 / 20
In retrospect it seems kind of silly, seeing as how Jason Day went wire to wire to win the 2016 Players Championship by four shots. So why was he so concerned about a few muffed chips? Because they came all together on the ninth hole, and threatened serious damage to his lead. But Day finally found the surface, drained a clutch bogey putt and the rest is history.
5 / 20
How unpopular was the Stadium Course in the early days? At the second playing of The Players Championship there, several players, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw, signed a petition urging commissioner Deane Beman to order changes made to the course to make it more fair. Hal Sutton, who had not signed the petition, beat Bob Eastwood by one shot for the title. And about that course softening: Sutton’s winning score was 5 under. It would be 12 more years before another player won with a score that high.
6 / 20
Not much had gone right for Fred Couples in the first round. He was 5 over par when he came to the 17th hole. Shooting for the front-left pin position, he came up short of the green and in the water. Re-teeing, Couples went after the flag again, and this time he got it, flying his third shot straight into the cup for the unlikeliest of pars. "I don't really know how hard I was trying on my third shot," Couples told Jacksonville.com in 2010. "If I don't make that shot, I think I shoot 80, 81 and probably miss the cut. Three days later, I was in fourth place."
7 / 20
When Len Mattiace arrived at the 17th tee on Sunday just one shot off the lead, he was a Cinderella story waiting to happen. Winless on the PGA Tour, he was a local resident. His gallery included his mother, Joyce, who had lung cancer and was in a wheelchair. Unfortunately for Mattiace, the island-green 17th doesn’t allow for sentiment, just precise tee shots. Mattiace’s wasn’t. It flew over the green into the water. He hit his next shot into the front pot bunker and hit his sand shot into the water. His quintuple bogey-8 ended Mattiace’s dream, but he collected himself enough to birdie the final hole. “This experience is something I can learn from,” he said.
8 / 20
Drama at the 17th hole usually involves one or more balls hit into the water, but Martin Kaymer produced a dry but compelling storyline on Sunday. Leading by one going to No. 17, Kaymer found the green with his tee shot, but the ball spun back toward the front of the green, where it stopped in the collar. His chip came up some 30 feet short, leaving him with a long, hard-right-breaking putt to save par. Miraculously, he made it, then parred 18 for a one-shot win over Jim Furyk.
9 / 20
With one win in 202 career PGA Tour starts before he retired in 2007, Craig Perks was the prototypical one-hit wonder. But oh, what a wonderful finish he had in the 2002 Players Championship. He chipped in from 21 feet for eagle on the par-5 16th hole, drained a 28-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and chipped in from 28 feet to save par on the 18th. That gave him a two-shot final margin over runner-up Stephen Ames. Perks’ fantastic finish made up for the seven bogeys he made in a round of even-par 72.
10 / 20
In the first Players Championship contested in May instead of March, Phil Mickelson topped Sergio Garcia by two shots. Playing partner Sean O’Hair was two shots behind Mickelson as they went to the 17th hole, but O’Hair hit two balls in the water and made a quadruple bogey. That gave Mickelson enough of a cushion that his bogey on the 18th hole didn’t matter. Mickelson’s victory at Sawgrass was a bit of an aberration; in 2015, after missing The Players cut for the third consecutive year, he said, “I can’t believe I’ve actually won here.”
11 / 20
After he had scored the biggest win of his career, Sergio Garcia acknowledged the elephant in the room. Or more precisely, the Tiger not in the tournament. “First of all,” Garcia said, “I want to thank Tiger for not being here.” While Woods was recuperating from knee surgery, Garcia went out in 35-mph winds and posted a final-round 71 to force a playoff with Paul Goydos, then won with a par after Goydos found the water on 17 in the playoff. “The only thing this tells me is to keep working hard and to believe in myself,” Garcia said, “and when I do believe in myself, I think there's not a lot of guys out there that can beat me.”
12 / 20
The 17th and 18th holes at TPC Sawgrass get most of the publicity, but the tournament often swings on the par-5 16th. Make an eagle there and you’ve bought yourself some leeway for the final two holes. Fred Couples figured he needed an eagle at 16, so he went after what he admitted was “a sucker pin” on the right side of the green, hard by the water. Both Couples and caddie Joe LaCava thought the 225-yard 2-iron shot was wet, but it just made it onto land, then kicked left, safely away from the water. Couples fist-pumped the putt from the fringe into the cup, and two holes later he had a second Players victory.
13 / 20
Overrated? That’s what a Sports Illustrated poll of anonymous Tour players had said about Rickie Fowler – that he was one of the most overrated players on Tour. So what did Mr. Overrated do? On one of the toughest finishing stretches in golf, he played his final six holes in 6 under par to post a 67, then beat Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in a three-hole aggregate playoff for his second PGA Tour win. Counting the playoff, Fowler birdied the island-green 17th hole three times on Sunday, including a 5-foot putt that wrapped up the title. “I laughed at the poll,” Fowler said, “but, yeah, if there was any question, I think this [trophy] right here answers anything you need to know.”
14 / 20
Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia sniped at each other in the media on Saturday, then dueled for the win on Sunday. The winner of the war of words was debatable. The winner of the tournament was not. It started when Garcia, in a TV interview, said that he was disrupted on one shot by Woods’ crowd. "Not real surprising that he's complaining about something," Woods said. On Sunday, Garcia and Woods were tied for the lead until Garcia hit two balls in the water and took a quadruple bogey-7 on the 17th hole. Deflated, he hit it in the water again and made double on 18 as Woods won his second Players title.
15 / 20
David Duval’s victory in the 1999 Players Championship was special because it: a.) elevated Duval to the No. 1 ranking in the world; b.) came just two months after Duval shot a 59 in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic; c.) pushed Duval over the $2 million mark in earnings for the year; or d.) came on the same day that Duval’s father, Bob, won the Emerald Coast Classic on the Senior PGA Tour, making the Duvals the first father-son combo to win on the same day. The answer of course, is e.) all of the above.
16 / 20
These Memorable Moments are all from PGA Tour events, but we’re making one exception because of the notoriety of this one. In 1986 Golf Digest conducted a search for America’s “Worst Avid Golfer.” The idea was to pare a list down to four finalists and have them play a course that obviously was way too difficult for them. In other words, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The “winner” of that fateful round was one Angelo Spagnolo, a Pennsylvania man with a purported handicap of 56. That figure is 10 less than the number of strokes it took him to play the 17th hole at Sawgrass, on his way to a 257.
17 / 20
This was the year Greg Norman turned The Players Championship into the Bob Hope Desert Classic. The Shark shot a tournament-record (by six shots) 24-under 264, beating runner-up Fuzzy Zoeller by four. Norman made only one bogey in 72 holes (No. 13 on Sunday) in shooting a record-tying 63 and three 67s. Norman said he drew on his experience in winning the 1993 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges. “At Royal St. Georges I played with focus and control and dedication,” he said. “That’s the way I played today.”
18 / 20
Jerry Pate’s leap into the water after winning the first Players Championship played at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was no surprise. Pate, who came from three shots behind in the final round to beat Scott Simpson and Brad Bryant by two shots, had told the media that if he won, he was going into the water and taking PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman and course designer Pete Dye with him. This wasn’t Pate’s first victory plunge, either – he had done the same thing the previous year after winning in Memphis.
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If you haven’t seen the video, we have just one question: How has life been on Mars? Seriously, if you want to know EXACTLY what Gary Koch (and Johnny Miller) said, that’s what YouTube is for. Here at the Memorable Moments desk, we’d rather fill in forgotten details. So, 1. Tiger Woods’ putt happened in the third round, not the fourth. 2. At the time he was tied for second with Vijay Singh, three shots behind Jerry Kelly. And 3. The Putt technically wasn’t a putt. Because Woods stroked the ball from the fringe (some 60 feet from the hole), it didn’t count as a putt in the official statistics. Now THAT is a tidbit that is … drum roll … better than most.
20 / 20
During the 2000 season and especially during The Players Championship, Hal Sutton had quite a bit to say about Tiger Woods. Having been anointed as the “next Nicklaus” during his early years on Tour, Sutton knew what it was like to be an alpha dog. But he believed that Woods’ “intimidation factor” existed only in the minds of players who let it exist. “I’m not praying to him,” Sutton said. “He’s not a god …” So when Sutton protected his one-shot lead over playing partner Woods on the 72nd hole with his 179-yard 6-iron to 8 feet – Woods had missed the green with his approach – there was nothing left to be said except “Be the right club TODAY!”
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Click through images that show the history of the iconic Par-3 17th on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.