Nine Australians headed by world No. 7 Jason Day are contesting the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida starting tonight.
The Players is the flagship event of the PGA Tour of the United States with the strongest field, and Day, who went 0-3 in the World Golf Championship matchplay in San Francisco last week, will know all about the strength of the competition from the time he hits his first tee shot.
The Queenslander is in the marquee group for the $US10 million tournament with the top two players in the world – Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – on the opening two days. That trio tee off at 10.39pm tonight, Australian time, in round one.
McIlroy, winner of the matchplay last weekend, and Spieth, the Masters champion, have been spoiling for a fight for the past month or so. This week, the world title bout will be delivered.
The Australians, meanwhile, are slightly off the radar, with both Day and Scott bombing out in the WGC event last week. Queenslander John Senden, a quarter-finalist last week, and Victorian Marc Leishman, who made the top 16, are showing some form.
Leishman told AAP’s Ben Everill that he was refocussed after the recent illness of his wife, Audrey, and her recovery.
"Mentally I am better, I just feel like I have evolved. The place has kicked my arse before but I really enjoy it now, I enjoy the challenge of it," Leishman said. "I can shape it both ways now rather than just left to right, and I manage my game a lot better now. I know if you don't play well it will be a short week but if you do play well anyone can win this tournament. That's exciting."
The Players Championship, sometimes called the ‘’fifth major’’, has been good to Australians. It’s where a 23-year-old Scott announced himself as a big-time player in 2004, while Greg Norman and Steve Elkington also won the tournament.
TPC Sawgrass is world famous for its quirky island green at the par-three 17th, where thousands of hackers try their luck each year. Divers fish an estimated 120,000 balls out of the pond each year from the hole designed by American Pete Dye.
The island green, widely-copied and often criticised as a gimmick, has become Dye’s most talked-about single hole; ironically it was not meant to be. Dye was planning the hole to have a pond on just one side, but his wife Alice suggested he take the diggers right around the green and he acquiesced.
Caddies have an annual challenge at the 17th tee every year with mixed results, and professionals are not immune from its travails. The American pro Bob Tway had a 12 there in the third round of the 2005 Players; four balls disappeared into the drink and then after he found the putting surface at the fifth attempt, he three-putted.
The shot should not be demanding – just 130 metres with a nine iron or so – but nerves kick in. At the Players last year 28 balls went into the water over the four days; the record is 93 during the 2007 tournament.