Notes: Sudden-death finish at Players Championship raises questions

Notes: Sudden-death finish at Players Championship raises questions

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Starting a sudden-death playoff on a par 3 is rare, but not unprecedented. It last happened on the PGA Tour eight years ago at the BellSouth Classic, when the playoff between Phil Mickelson and Gary Nicklaus began on the 16th hole because the rest of the course was covered with water.

This time, tour officials purposely sought out a hole surrounded by water.

Golf purists might complain that The Players Championship took on a carnival appearance Sunday when they changed the sequence of traditional playoff holes so that it would start on the island-green 17th.

Sudden-death playoffs typically begin on the 18th hole because the fans already are in place. That’s where it started the last time The Players went overtime, although that was 21 years ago.

Henry Hughes, the tour’s chief of operations and soon-to-be CEO of The Players, said officials decided about five years ago to start the playoff at No. 17, and there were no regrets Sunday.

“We discussed what would be the most exciting, most compelling, most attractive way to end the tournament should it end in a tie,” Hughes said. “The entire team concluded that arguably the most exciting hole in golf would be the place to contest a playoff. We think it was exciting. We think the decision was right.”

The question is how much the playoff was decided by skill and how much was decided by luck.

Playing the 472-yard 18th would have tested driving ability, iron play, scrambling and the nerves of standing over a putt for the win. Starting on an island green that played 128 yards required a wedge and hope that a gust didn’t blow at the wrong time.

Paul Goydos caught a gust of wind. Sergio Garcia did not.

“The hole was designed to do exactly what it did,” Goydos said. “Just got me instead of somebody else.”

Goydos had no complaints, however, and he conceded that he hit the ball a smidgen higher than the more penetrating shot he struck in regulation. Garcia hit a sand wedge that was close to perfection.

Goydos was right in one other aspect – the hole did what it was designed to in a playoff. It added drama, and that didn’t stop after Goydos hit into the water.

On any other hole, all Garcia had to do was play it safe. But how you do you play that shot conservatively?

“I could do exactly the same thing,” Garcia said. “I was just praying that I didn’t get any weird gusts or wind or anything that.”

As for the fans? It was impossible for so many of them to get to the 17th green in time for the playoff. However, the large video board behind the 18th green carried the action live.

Ideally, the tour should consider what the Masters won’t – a three-hole aggregate playoff starting at No. 16 to test a player on a par 5, a par 3 and a par 4, allowing room for a mistake. Who wouldn’t love to see a playoff at Augusta National around Amen Corner?

It wasn’t all bad. The 17th, after all, is the signature hole at Sawgrass. But maybe it’s a sign of The Players Championship status that it still needs to find a way for its tournament to be a little more than it already is.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Tom Lehman was 37 when he captured his first major in the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and that’s when he first met and took a liking to a 16-year-old from Spain.

Sergio Garcia played in his first British Open that year. Lehman handed him the claret jug and said to Garcia, “Someday, you’ll win this.”

It hasn’t happened – yet – although a major is just a matter of time.

In the meantime, news from the PGA Tour on Tuesday showed how far Garcia has come since then.

Lehman tied for sixth at The Players Championship and earned $307,563. Garcia won in a playoff and took home $1.71 million. The significance? Both crossed the $20 million mark in career earnings.

RYDER FEVER: A half-dozen players from the top 50 in the world ranking did not compete in The Players Championship, mainly because of injury (Tiger Woods), fatigue (Martin Kaymer) or illness (Trevor Immelman).

For Robert Karlsson, it was all about the Ryder Cup.

The Swede was the only player in the top 50 competing last week somewhere other than Sawgrass. Karlsson was at the Italian Open, where he contended on the weekend and eventually finished third behind Hennie Otto and Oliver Wilson.

But he picked up 9.6 world ranking points, the equivalent of finishing 12th at The Players.

CLARKE STAYS HOME: Darren Clarke also has the Ryder Cup on his mind, enough to skip U.S. Open qualifying in Europe.

Clarke, whose victory in the BMW Asian Open two weeks ago was his first since his wife died of breast cancer, withdrew Tuesday from U.S. Open qualifying to boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup team for the sixth straight time.

He instead will play the Wales Open at Celtic Manor, which coincidentally hosts the 2010 Ryder Cup.

“My win in China really put my career back on track and I want to do everything I possibly can to be part of Nick Faldo’s side for Valhalla next September,” Clarke said.

Clarke said he would have played the U.S. Open had he been exempt from qualifying. He still hopes to play his way into the British Open and PGA Championship, which offer high ranking points and count as official money on the European Tour.

He is playing the Irish Open this week.

SPIN OF THE WEEK: World ranking points are awarded to the Nationwide Tour in an effort to boost its credibility. U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost won last week and received 14 points.

That’s more than Brett Quigley, Tom Lehman, Ben Crane and Ernie Els received after they tied for sixth at The Players Championship.

DIVOTS: In its weekly newsletter, the PGA Tour noted that Ben Curtis had gone 345 consecutive holes without a three-putt, dating to the Honda Classic. He promptly three-putted his 12th hole in the second round of The Players Championship, ending the streak at 374 … Sergio Garcia is the first player to go from runner-up to winner in consecutive years at The Players Championship since Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2001. … Alexis Thompson, the 12-year-old who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open last year, was at The Players Championship watching older brother Nicholas. She didn’t look like the same girl at Pine Needles, though, because she has grown 5 inches.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Hal Sutton in 1983 is the only player to win The Players Championship and his first major in the same season.

FINAL WORD: “This is how I make decisions in my life, just like on the golf course. If I decide to hit a 7-iron, then it’s a 7-iron. I’m cool with my decision. I trust my instincts.” – Annika Sorenstam, who announced she is retiring after this year.

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