I am more famous—10 times more famous—for finishing second at the 2008 Players after a brief playoff with Sergio García than for anything else I've done in golf, and that includes winning the Bay Hill Invitational and the Sony Open in Hawaii, and shooting a 59. For six months after that playoff, I'd be stopped in airports and people would say, "I was really rooting for you against Sergio." The NBC interview with Bob Costas that week helped my fame factor a lot. If Costas is going to ask me a cliché-ish question like "How did you sleep last night?" he knows what answer is coming—or thinks he does—so I gave him an answer that people would remember: "On my side."
Dead Men Walking
Because of the water, the island-green 17th hole doesn't have the intimacy of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, but it does have the same crowd—corporate people in their suites and loud drunks who want to be the center of attention every eight minutes. The 17th is like the Colosseum with Romans and lions and helpless victims, except it's a par-3 golf hole.
I'm not a Pete Dye fan. Architects make golf too hard for the average player, and I think it shows. But with the 17th Dye did a fantastic job of getting in players' heads. It's all about the walk around the water hazard from the 16th green to the 17th tee. It's like walking a gantlet. You have way too much time to think. The reality is that the 17th is only an eight- or nine-iron shot to a decent-sized target. It's not that hard. But because of that trek, your anxiety has time to build to DEFCON One. It's one of the great walks in golf.
The year I lost to Sergio, I was the first guy and the last guy in the water at 17 because I had started the opening round on the back nine early on Thursday. I didn't hear about my "feat" until one of the writers pointed it out. Thanks for that.
Some said starting a playoff at a 137-yard par-3 was hokey, that the Players should have a three-hole playoff at 16, 17 and 18. I disagree. Starting at 17 meets the criterion of sudden death—it's sudden, all right. Seriously, I'd much rather play the 17th versus Sergio than the 16th or the 18th. Sergio is a better player tee to green, and those are a long hitter's holes. At 17, I'm on a pretty even platform. In fact, if I had my choice of where to start a playoff, I'd pick 17.
You think about 17 all week. You can't help it. The drama starts building when you're playing 16. Watch how many guys who are walking to the 16th green look 100 yards to their right to see what's happening at 17. I'll tell you how many—most of them.
I've never viewed the 17th as a scary hole. I know I shouldn't say this—it'll be a total jinx—but I've probably made as many birdies (16) there as anyone. I've only hit it in the water a few times. At least eight holes at the Stadium course bother me more than the 17th.
My first memory of TPC Sawgrass is when Jerry Pate jumped in the lake when he won in 1982 after he had already pushed Tour commissioner Deane Beman and Pete Dye into the water. I'm not jumping into the water, period. Catching dysentery doesn't seem like a great way to celebrate. I don't get that. Jumping into the water is what you do when you three-putt the last green to lose. Have you ever been at a golf course where you saw the water in a lake and said, "Boy, I wish I could swim in there"? No. I try to stay away from the water at golf courses as much as possible. I don't even like the drinking fountains. They usually look suspect.