5. Strictly from a design standpoint, does TPC Sawgrass boast the most intimidating finish on Tour? Is there any other event where the course design itself is such a huge part of the story?
Goydos: It is a great last three holes. On 16 you need to (for a right hander) hook it off the tee then cut your second shot. No. 17 tests your ability to control your distance under the utmost pressure, and No. 18 tests your ability to deal with what's in front of you. By the time you reach this tee, you pretty much know what you have to do. It's like looking in a mirror that reveals your true self -- can you handle it?
Godich: Absolutely. I don't think even Pete Dye could have imagined what great theater the closing holes have produced. It is risk-reward at its finest.
Morfit: Yes and no--although I suppose course design will be a pretty big part of the story at the next Open at St. Andrews. And it's always a big part of the story any time they make changes to Augusta National.
Passov: Phoenix may have the noise and Pebble the scenery, but no other course can touch Sawgrass for drama. It's hard enough closing on Tour, but when the shot demands are so exacting and the visuals so intimidating -- straight edges on water hazards exude all-or-nothing harshness -- to finish at Sawgrass means you've accomplished something. Bay Hill is the only other track I can think of where the course design plays such a huge role at the end, but it's not quite Sawgrass.
Van Sickle: Sawgrass has the most intimidating finish when it's windy. It wasn't all that intimidating this week without much wind. Everyone was gunning at the 16th in two, the 17th was a pitching wedge and not that tough -- uh, sorry Sergio -- and the 18th even yielded a 2. The Honda Classic has had some demanding finishing stretches at several venues over the years. But no other course has packaged its last three holes so perfectly for drama and TV as Sawgrass. Maybe if Pebble Beach had a better 16th hole, but to answer the question, Sawgrass stands out.
Ritter: Course-design as a central storyline? It happened at Augusta when the tees were pushed back, but when a guy hits into Rae's Creek, you don't hear Jim Nantz exclaim, "That's Alister MacKenzie for you right there," the way the booth boys constantly mention Pete Dye when a player finds trouble at Sawgrass.
Wei: After that dramatic finish today, it's hard to judge this somewhat subjectively. I'd say the Bear Trap at PGA National comes close. Those par-3s -- 15 and 17 -- over water are extremely intimidating, especially 17, which requires a long iron.
Lynch: It's terrific theater and it's fun to watch pros sweat over a wedge shot, but for my money PGA National boasts the Tour's toughest closing stretch. The Stadium Course is a better layout by far, but both are prime examples of plane-crash golf. I'd rather enjoy car-crash golf, designs that at least offer a possibility of survival after an errant shot.
Bamberger: It's a great carnival finish, and I do love it. But Riviera is the real deal.
6. Playing in memory of his best friend, who died in a car crash Thursday night, Ryan Palmer made an emotional run at the Players trophy while wearing his friend's initials on his cap. Crenshaw won the Masters right after the death of his mentor, Harvey Penick; Tiger won the British Open at Hoylake soon after the passing of his father, Earl. In both cases they broke down in tears. What is it about playing for something more than themselves that fuels such performances?
Goydos: The first tournament I played after Wendy died I got myself into contention on Saturday before fading a little on Sunday. I can't speak for anyone else, but sometimes I forget in the grand scheme of things how well I play golf on a given day, week, or year isn't that important. Perspective is an easy thing to lose playing golf for a living!
Wei: I remember last year Eric Meierdierks got through all three stages of Q-school after his father passed away. His good friend and caddie Bill Bohr told me he got a text from Eric who said his dad just died and that "we're playing for him now." The emotions that come along with loss and love are so strong and can distract players in a good way.
Morfit: It seems to put the game of golf and the drama of Tour life into perspective pretty quickly. When you've seen real life and death up close, it's pretty much impossible to treat every golf shot as life and death. That obviously frees guys up to just play and let it happen.
Lynch: For every Crenshaw at Augusta or Tiger at Hoylake there have been thousands of golfers who played under the weight of personal tragedy or loss without success. Some may be able to use life's losses as fuel for sporting goals, but surely not many. Golf is trivial. Life isn't. We shouldn't reflexively link the two as part of some misty narrative. Leave that to Rich Lerner.
Van Sickle: You put aside the real world to play golf, maybe in an emotion-less Hogan-like trance. When it's over, the real world intrudes again. You're a real human being again. Life's a bitch and then you die, as the song goes. It's all about the passion and the love along the way.
Bamberger: Golf is the greatest of games, but also the most selfish. Playing for others enriches everything about it. Hence the samples cited here, and the Ryder Cup.