x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Top golf players get ready for another run at unforgiving TPC Sawgrass

Many of the world's top players – Tiger Woods included – have taken their lumps at TPC Sawgrass and they will tee it up again this weekend at the famous Florida course for the Players Championship, writes Steve Elling.

Phil Mickelson, a recent winner at TPC Sawgrass, chips during a practice round on Wednesday. Tannen Maury / EPA
Phil Mickelson, a recent winner at TPC Sawgrass, chips during a practice round on Wednesday. Tannen Maury / EPA

On the US tour, it is the most All-American of venues.

Unfettered power matters next to nothing, the course skews even less toward any player's affluence, and cares zero about his pedigree elsewhere. It is the most democratic course in the professional game, where the professional proletariat not only can compete with the game's royalty, but beat them with stunning regularity.

The site of this week's vaunted Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass was designed by the grand wizard of architects, the devilish Pete Dye, and has become one of the revered institutions in the game because of its inherent ability to – perish the thought – identify the most deserving winner.

The world No 1 Tiger Woods is entered for the 16th time and his record at Sawgrass, compared to other courses he plays regularly, is nothing short of perplexing.

He has one victory, in 2001, and has finished in the top 10 only once since.

"You just can't fake it on this golf course," Woods said.

Sawgrass does not identify the best player in the game, but the best player of the week. Plinkers and dinkers have the same chance as the bashers and bombers, as evidenced by a list of recent winners, which includes the short knockers Fred Funk and Tim Clark, alongside power players like Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson. It is tight, visually intimidating, dotted with hazards and the greens have tricky run-off areas. Dye's masterpiece demands an overall mastery.

"This golf course asks something different of the players than they are asked every week on the PGA Tour, where there is leniency off the tee that allows for recovery," the Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. "That's why it has been a giant-killer."

It has Picasso elements, including quirky angles, forced carries and sectioned fairways, which neuter the advantages of aggressive players and force them to tactically plot – if not plod – their way along by hitting shots to precise spots.

"We all play to the same places," Woods said.

For Woods, those places are outside the winner's circle. Dye courses have given him problems throughout his career. He has never won at Dye venues such as Hilton Head, Whistling Straits, Kiawah or Crooked Stick, either. Then again, the multiple-major winners Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and Mickelson collectively have one victory at Sawgrass, so it discriminates based solely on performance. McIlroy has missed three straight cuts.

Built in what was once a Florida swamp, Dye shoved around sand with his bulldozer to concoct a unique course that is no pushover. It might not produce the most famous winner, just the most worthy.

"If you're not playing well," Woods said, "you're going to get exposed."


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