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Sunday, May 5, 2013
Updated: May 6, 10:20 AM ET
Five make-or-break holes at Players

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

The Players Championship
The island green on the 17th hole at the Sawgrass Stadium Course is an imposing sight.

What if Alice Dye hadn't convinced husband Pete Dye to build the island green at the 17th hole on the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass? What if the shot simply called for a little 137-yard pitching wedge over land into the 3,900-square-foot green, fronted by a tiny pot bunker?

Sometimes I like to imagine these scenarios, but then I come around to the realization that The Players Championship wouldn't be what it is without the 17th hole.

I remember back to the summer of 1995 when I first stood on that tee, confused about whether to hit an 8- or 9-iron. There was a brutal crosswind that July afternoon. I had just come off the par-5 16th green with a birdie, but I knew my entire round could unravel here with a chunky iron shot.

Kuchar
Matt Kuchar survived two bogeys at No. 17 over the weekend to win The Players Championship last year.

It's a long walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee, only because you're compelled to carefully take in the magnitude of the island green: the forced carry, the target and the fear of hitting ball after ball into the water.

The 17th is for sure a moment of reckoning for every player who tees it up on the Stadium Course. But one hole does not make a golf course or a tournament. Last year, Matt Kuchar survived two bogeys at No. 17 on the weekend to win the Players. A double-bogey or worse on either of those days on that hole could have cost him the tournament.

Yet there are many excellent holes at Sawgrass that could also cost players a chance at the $1.7 million first prize.

Here are my fab five.

1. Hole 18 / 462 yards, par 4

Water runs down the entire left side of the hole. But there is no bailout to the right with the spectator mounds and trees. Often players lay back with a fairway wood, but that leaves a long iron into a multi-tiered green. Last year, it was the second hardest ranked hole during the tournament with a 4.270 stroke average.

2. Hole 14 / 481 yards, par 4

This hole ranked as the most difficult hole during the 2012 Players with a 4.305 stroke average. There is water and a waste bunker that runs down the left side and mounds on the right. No matter where your drive finishes, it's often a tough approach shot, particularly for shorter hitters with the pin tucked in the left corner. Last year, there were 117 bogeys and 19 double-bogeys at this hole.

3. Hole 5 / 471 yards, par 4

With this dogleg right, Pete Dye did an expert job at creating difficulty for the best players in the world. It's by the far the hardest hole on the front nine. It was ranked the third hardest hole in the '12 Players.

4. Hole 16 / 523 yards, par 5

It's the classic risk-reward hole. You're supposed to make birdie here with a good drive and adequate second shot. But if you get clumsy you can make an easy bogey. It's routinely the easiest hole on the course and the last really good birdie chance before heading into the madness at Nos. 17 and 18.

5. Hole 8 / 237 yards, par 3

The other three par-3s on the Stadium Course are overshadowed by 17, but the eighth hole is long and difficult with bunkers circling the heavily contoured green. It ranked as the fourth most difficult hole last year.