PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Camilo Villegas dropped his club, then dropped his head. His ball dropped a few seconds later – right into the murky lagoon surrounding the famed 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass.
Villegas hit one of 50 balls into the water surrounding the island green Thursday, helping break the single-round tournament record of 45 set in 2000.
“That was certainly the toughest shot,” said Phil Mickelson, who made par.
About a third of the field found water at No. 17 during the first round of The Players Championship and made the short, somewhat embarrassing walk to the drop area for a third shot.
Davis Love III, Ben Curtis, Kent Jones and Trevor Immelman couldn’t even hit the green from there, needing a third tee shot to land on the 90-by-85 foot putting surface. They finished with quadruple-bogey 7s.
The 128-yard hole played tougher than any other Thursday, mostly because wind gusts reached 39 mph and swirled in different directions.
There were 12 birdies, 70 pars, 26 bogeys, 23 double bogeys and 12 “others” at No. 17. The daunting hole left many golfers shaking their head, questioning their club selection and feeling either frustration or relief as they walked to the 18th tee.
By comparison, 57 balls were hit in the water at 17 last year – in four rounds.
“It’s playing very tough out there because the last thing you want to do is try and hit a shot far enough to get to the back and then the wind die on you or try and hit one to the front and have the wind gust on you,” first-round leader Rory Sabbatini said. “It’s going to be a very tough test of patience out there.”
It’s the shortest hole on the Stadium Course, and it’s rarely more than a short iron. But on a windy day, it can wreak havoc on even the best golfers in the world.
Paul Casey set the tone Thursday.
He was in the first group to reach the 17th tee, and his tee shot came up short. Playing partner Charles Warren followed suit. Nathan Green landed his shot safely on, barely avoiding the entire threesome having to stop at the drop area.
That happened a few hours later, when Jose Coceres, Hunter Mahan and Richard S. Johnson each splashed their tee shots.
Love was in the next group and did the same thing, making it four in a row.
The gallery seemed to enjoy each of them. Of course, that’s part of the hole’s lure.
Originally, No. 17 wasn’t even supposed to be an island. Things changed when the sand surrounding the area that is now the green was used to build other fairways. Course designer Pete Dye struggled with design ideas until his wife, Alice, suggested an island green.
Now, the island could be the most recognizable golf hole in the world. It has its own Web site, its own T-shirts and its own fans. Thousands of people come to this tournament each year not to see Tiger Woods or Ernie Els, but to see No. 17.
There’s a huge hill in the back of the green and another, even larger, running down the left side of the hole. Fans arrive early each morning to claim prime spots.
They certainly got a show Thursday. The hole played at an average of 3.693 strokes, on pace to shatter the previous tournament record of 3.368 set in 1984.
“One thing beyond anything else that’s going to make more guys hit in the water on 17 is the wind,” Jim Furyk said. “It makes it that much more tougher.”
DIMARCO’S INJURY: Chris DiMarco, winless since 2002, shot 68 for his best round of the year. He did it despite a shoulder injury that could require surgery.
DiMarco revealed the injury Thursday, saying he received two cortisone shots in the last month to alleviate chronic pain. His left shoulder has been popping on nearly every swing, causing soreness and throwing off his timing.
He hopes that building strength in the shoulder will solve the problem. But he’s also considering arthroscopic surgery at the end of the year to clean out some bone spurs. He said tests also revealed arthritis in his AC joint and tendinitis in his rotator cuff.
“It’s going to take about a month and a half to be fully back to where I need to be,” DiMarco said. “Right now, with the run of majors coming up, I can’t really take any time off. So resting it and strengthening it is the biggest thing. I might strengthen it enough where it stops popping and I might not even need surgery.”
“I think it runs in the family,” he said. “It’s been bothering me for years now, whether it was my right or my left. Both of them are not good.”
PLAYER WITHDRAWALS: Darren Clarke, Daisuke Maruyama and David Howell withdrew from the tournament.
Clarke withdrew after six holes, citing a hamstring injury. He was 1 over.
Maruyama played the entire first round, shot a 13-over 85 and then called it quits because of a sore back. Maruyama had four double bogeys in the final five holes.
Howell played two holes, bogeyed both of them, and withdrew because of a back injury.