STEVE MARINO HAS never won on the PGA Tour but the golfer, who achieved a world ranking high of 54 last year, owns the record of best tee-to-green performer at the infamous 17th hole at Sawgrass.
The 32-year-old has stepped up to the tee at the 132-yard par-three hole on 15 occasions and has yet to find the water.
His 15 shots average just over 17 feet from the hole. Not the easiest putting distance in the world but every player at golf’s ‘fifth major’ would pay dearly to land four such consecutive shots this weekend.
The ‘Island Green’ at 17 is 74-feet long and, apart from a narrow path that leads up to it, completely surrounded by water.
It is estimated that 100,000 balls, courtesy of wayward attempts from course visitors and professionals, are retrieved from the waters each year.
Tiger Woods landed a memorable, long putt on the green in 2001 on his way to winning his only Players Championship at Sawgrass to date.
He believes that 17 is ‘a wonderful hole’ but the fact that it comes so late in the round feels ‘a little gimmicky’. He added:
I think 17 is a great hole … but not the 17th (hole). I think it’s a perfect eighth hole. I understand the premise behind it. It’s dramatic. But it’s a great eighth hole or something early in the back nine.
Steve Lowery would certainly agree with Woods’ assessment on drama but he never could have predicted, in 1998, that his ball would end up in the water after landing a superb tee shot.
As Lowery strode along the fan galleries on his way to the green, a seagull took an interest in his ball as toyed with it before snapping it up in his beak and flying off.
The crowd, and Lowery, were dumbstruck when the seagull then deposited the ball into the water from 60 feet in the air and swooping off.
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Phil Mickleson was Lowery’s playing partner that day and patted the Alabama golfer on the back.
Lefty, an admirable risk-reward player, has experienced his fair share of woes on 17 and has failed to reach the island six times in the past decade.
Take me to the island
While Marino has the best average distance-to-hole statistics on 17, the man who has tamed it on more occasions than most is Paul Azinger.
The former US Ryder Cup captain sank a 60-foot putt in 1995 to secure his tour card and is the only golfer to achieve four consecutive birdies on 17.
There was further joy for Azinger in 2000 when he landed a hole-in-one after a gutsy tee-shot straight at the pin.
Asked about the shot over a decade later, Azinger remarked, “I have no idea how I did it.”
He may be modest but expect Rory McIlroy and company to be watching the 52-year-old for tips when he tees up at 17 this Thursday and Friday.