Famed island green causes chaos


A strong wind swirled around the famed island green, turning what should have been a seemingly simple tee shot into a daunting challenge for even the world's best golfers.

And when the opening round at The Players Championship was complete Thursday, the par-3 No. 17 had tormented and frustrated a good chunk of the field.

A record 50 balls were hit into the murky water surrounding the green, breaking the single-round tournament mark of 45 set in 2000. It also was seven shy of the total number of balls hit into the water in four rounds last year.

"That was certainly the toughest shot," co-leader Phil Mickelson said.

Mickelson was one of the lucky ones, escaping the 17th with a par. It helped him finish at 5-under 67 and share the first-round lead with Rory Sabbatini.

Tiger Woods shot 75 and was without a birdie on his card for the first time in four years.

Chris DiMarco, winless in five years and now coping with a bum shoulder, shot 68 for his best round of the year. Peter Lonard was another stroke back in fourth. Only 16 players broke par, and Retief Goosen (71) had the only bogey-free round.

No. 17 &

and the blustery conditions &

had a lot to do with the relatively high scores.

"Not golfing weather, really," Vijay Singh said. "Today was weather when you come out here and look around and go back to your car and go home."

Unfortunately for some, that wasn't an option.

They played in gusts nearing 40 mph, and the results showed &

especially on the Stadium Course's signature hole.

Players, good and bad, dunk an estimated 150,000 balls into the water surrounding No. 17 each year. For four days, though, the pros take over and usually fare much better.

Not Thursday.

About a third of the field found water during the opening round 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 to tee it up for a third time before landing on the 90-by-85 foot putting surface. They finished with quadruple-bogey 7s.

The 128-yard hole played tougher than any other, mostly because the wind swirled in different directions.

There were 12 birdies, 70 pars, 26 bogeys, 23 double bogeys and 12 "others" at No. 17. The hole left many golfers shaking their head, questioning their club selection and feeling either frustration or relief as they walked to the 18th tee.

"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," Sabbatini said. "It's going to be a very tough test of patience out there."

It's the shortest hole on the course, rarely more than a short iron. But on a windy day, it can wreak havoc on everyone.

Paul Casey set the tone early Thursday. He was in the first group to reach the 17th tee, and his 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.

It's the most photographed hole in the world, has its own Web site, T-shirts and culture. Tickets for this tournament aren't hard to get. But for a seat on the grassy mounds surrounding No. 17, it pays to arrive early.

Those fans certainly got their money's worth 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."

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