Third time’s a charm.
Hayden Buckley aced TPC Sawgrass’ iconic par-3 17th in Round 1 of The Players Championship. Then, on Saturday, Aaron Rai made history with a hole-in-one on 17. It was the first time in Players history that two players in the same tournament aced the island green.
But during the early wave of Sunday’s final round, Alex Smalley got in on the action. The 26-year-old's shot barely hit the green and then one-hopped into the cup. It was the first ace on TPC Sawgrass’ iconic penultimate hole in the final round since Fred Couples' in 1997. It was also the hole's 13th ace in Players history.
Full-field scores The Players Championship
“It was downwind,” Smalley said after a final-round 2-over 74. “I was between a sand wedge and a 50-degree wedge, 56- and a 50-. I felt like if I hit the longer club I would have had to have taken something off of it and it wouldn't have had a whole lot of spin coming in downwind. I think we had 128 yards to carry that bunker, and we figured it was playing 118, 117, so I went ahead and hit a hard sand wedge. I guess it landed right on the downslope and just went in.”
Making the ace even more impressive, Smalley carded a double bogey on the par-5 16th, so he decided to go right at the pin with just two holes left in his Players debut.
“I made a mess of 16,” he said. “Hit a wedge over the green in the water, and then hit one too many more putts than I wanted to. I figured I might as well just go right at it, so I think it was 134 yards.”
With the ace, he played 16 and 17 at even par, though, he bogeyed 18 and finished the tournament 1 over. However, roughly 24 hours before his fireworks on 17, he didn’t think he’d even complete all 72 holes.
“I was sweating it out Saturday morning,” he said,” because I was at 2 over, and it was kind of teetering back and forth between 2 over and 1 over making the cut, and I made the cut right on the number, right on the purse, and actually if there was one more person that finished ahead of me, I wouldn't have been here this weekend. Felt kind of lucky to be here playing on Saturday and Sunday.
“Obviously didn't have a very good day today. Didn't play exactly how I wanted to. To play the weekend at my first Players, I feel pretty good about that.”
Though Smalley didn’t leave The Players with the win, the world No. 113 will still depart the PGA Tour’s flagship event with a guaranteed paycheck and a historic moment 26 years in the making.