Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Sawgrass the ultimate test for McDowell

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell

Should it be a nine-iron . . . or maybe the net and a trident? Okay, none of the players get thrown to the alligators, but 17 at Sawgrass is as close as golf gets to the Roman Colosseum.

To the combatants at this week’s Players Championship, it seems as if the thousands on the vast grass terraces are “baying for blood”. Those words are Graeme McDowell’s, not mine.

It’s only 121 yards to the front of the green at 17 and 146 yards to the back and, as McDowell said: “Surround it with rough instead of water and the guys will take it apart. Yet put that little sliver of land out there in the middle of a lake and you’ve got carnage – especially when it blows.

“You’ve 20,000 people sitting around baying for blood from every group that comes through. It’s dramatic, probably the most dramatic finish in world golf – 16, 17 and 18 at Sawgrass.

“You can play them three-under as easy as you can play them three-over.”

On his one previous visit to the Players in 2005, McDowell got too close for comfort to the blood-letting. He was standing to the side of the tee at 17 during the third round when Bob Tway took the most savage beating in the event’s history, hitting four balls in the water before finding the green with the fifth and then three-putting for 12.

“There’s always two or three groups waiting there, so you get an opportunity to see some drama unfold,” said McDowell, describing Tway’s demise as ‘horrible to watch’.

“It’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation. You want to see the shots coming in and what the wind is doing but, at the same time, you don’t want to get any negative feedback,” the Portrush man added. “You don’t want to watch something like that because you have to stand up there and hit your own shot.”

McDowell punched an eight-iron into the breeze in all four rounds that year, hitting the green every time, though he came unstuck with a treble-bogey seven at 18 as inclement weather extended that year’s tournament into Monday. He finished in a tie for 40th place on two-over.

At $9.5m, the Players boasts the biggest purse in golf. For years it has also featured the strongest field and, with massive crowds thronging Pete Dye’s magnificent Stadium Course, it has long enjoyed a real Major Championship feel.

Yet the US Tour still moved it from March – where it was overshadowed by The Masters – to May, where warm Florida sunshine makes the course play as infernally hard and fast as the designer had always intended.

Meanwhile the Open is making a return to Muirfield in 2013, the R&A has announced.

It was last held there in 2002 when Ernie Els triumphed after winning the only four-man play-off in the championship’s history.

Winners of previous Muirfield Opens include golf’s biggest names, Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player have all lifted the Claret Jug there over the last 50 years.

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