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Billed as high-risk and high-reward, the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass might be the scariest 137-yard shot on the globe. But are the pin placement czars of the PGA Tour going soft on us?
In 2009, there were 80 birdies at 17, with just 32 balls in the water -- a difference of 48 in favor of the chirp. That marked the first time since 2005 that there were more birdies than shots into the drink on the island green.
That's the second-highest difference dating to 2003 -- which is as far back as the PGA Tour stroke detail information goes for the hole.
After a combined total of 282 shots into the agua in the four preceding years, 32 could be more of an aberration than a trend.
We all know it doesn't get any easier at the 18th, either.
Many queasy stomachs start on the tee at 18 as players hover above a shot that leaves them wary of the colossal water hazard that protects the entire left side of the hole.
In fact, the 18th hole at Sawgrass is the second-toughest closing hole on the PGA Tour dating to 1983. Only the last hole at the English Turn Golf and Country Club has played more difficult in that span among courses that have been played in at least 10 PGA Tour seasons.
Last week was obviously one to forget at Quail Hollow for Tiger Woods. His sixth missed cut as a professional saw him close with his worst career round in a non-major (79 on Friday), his worst 36-hole score (153) and a tie for the worst nine-hole score in his career (43 on the back Friday).
There's some silver lining, though, for TW heading to Sawgrass: The last time Woods missed the cut (last year's Open Championship), he won in his next start, at the Buick Open. In his five missed cuts before last week, only once -- early in his career-- did Woods finish outside the top-3 in his next event.
Woods hasn't played up to his lofty standards in recent years at TPC Sawgrass. Since winning the tournament in 2001, Tiger's best finish was eighth last year. Since 2005, he's only played six of 16 rounds better than par.
Tiger, like most golfers, hasn't had a great amount of success at the Players Championship signature hole. Since winning the tournament in 2001, Tiger has played the 17th at TPC Sawgrass 28 times in competition. In that span, he's played the hole to a combined 7 over par. He's birdied it just twice during that time, in 2003 and 2009.
Coming off his worst driving performance as a professional, in which he hit just six of 28 fairways, Sawgrass and it's incredibly penal rough is not the ideal destination for Mr. Woods. Woods has failed to hit 60 percent of his fairways in four of his last five starts at TPC Sawgrass.
Since 2000, only two players have failed to hit 60 percent of the fairways and won the tournament: Phil Mickelson in 2007, and the immortal Craig Perks in 2002. When Woods won in 2001, he hit 62.5 percent of fairways for the week.
Mickelson has been able to get away with being wild off the tee in recent weeks, hitting a paltry 22 fairways last week at Quail Hollow and still finishing tied for second. At the Masters, Mickelson hit 60.7 percent of the fairways for the week, but frequently found himself hitting shots from off the short grass. That week at Augusta was the only time Phil has hit more than 60 percent on the PGA Tour this year.
Last weekend was a fascinating glimpse into the future of golf, with 20-year-old Rory McIlroy becoming the youngest winner on the PGA Tour since Woods in 1996, and Ryo Ishikawa firing an incomprehensible 58 to win his seventh career Japan Tour event. McIlroy shot a paltry 62 to win at Quail Hollow.
Fellow research cohort Jason McCallum provides a few notes on young Ishikawa's outstanding day: Ishikawa was born on September 17, 1991. By that date, Mickelson had played 13 PGA Tour events as an amateur (he turned pro in 1992). Woods had just won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at age 15. Fred Couples would go on to win his fifth career PGA Tour event the following weekend.
Ryo needed just 20 putts in his final round, which resembled something put together by a college sophomore playing XBox 360 in his dorm room. From holes 4-11, Ishikawa did not card anything higher than a 3.
Another interesting note: Entering the final round, the leader of the event was Shigeki Maruyama -- who recorded a 58 at Woodmont CC in U.S. Open qualifying in 2000 when the Open was held at Pebble Beach.
On Sunday, the combined ages of Ishikawa and McIlroy was 38. Their combined total under par was 22. The future looks bright for worldwide golf.
Question: Phil Mickelson will try to win the Players and the Masters in the same year when he tees it up this week at TPC Sawgrass. How many times has this happened in PGA Tour history, and who pulled off the rare feat?
Answer: Once. Tiger Woods in 2001.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.