PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The buzz ahead of The Players Championship has been as much about the new 12th hole as who will win in this world-class field of 48 top-50 players.
The PGA Tour blew up the old 12th, which was a milquetoast 350-yard par 4, and replaced it with a driveable par 4 that can play anywhere from 280-325 yards. The Tour was hoping to entice players to try to drive the green in search of a momentum-making eagle while threatening them with the penalty of landing in a water hazard with a drive to the left and brutal rough and bunkering to the right.
However, in the days leading to the tournament, players weren’t clear — even from one day to the next — about their strategy.
Jordan Spieth said laying up would make the most sense.
“I’ll probably go for it when it’s a back left pin and I’ll probably lay up every other day,” Spieth said on Tuesday.
Then he almost made a hole-in-one at No. 12 in a practice round at the back-left hole location — the only one Spieth said he might take on with a driver.
“[Caddie] Michael [Greller] said, ‘That was the worst thing you could have done,’” Spieth said, “because now I believe I can do it each time.”
Count Dustin Johnson among those who don’t think the reward is worth the risk.
“It kind of all depends on the wind direction and how I’m feeling, but most likely I’ll just lay up and wedge it,” Johnson said on Wednesday.
Henrik Stenson, who won the 2009 Players, thinks he will go with a 4-iron off the tee — a popular club with other players, too — and hit a sand wedge into the green.
“I’m not sure if the balance is 100 percent in terms of the risk and reward,” Stenson said. “That’s why I’m kind of holding back a little bit. I’m just going to try and find that part out, I think. It seems like you can hit a pretty good shot down the center of the fairway and it could end up in the water on the left-hand side, and if that’s the case, I’m not sure it’s worth it.”
However, as the tournament progresses, the PGA Tour intends to make it more tempting to try to find the green. Expect the weekend hole locations to be on the left side of the hole, giving a natural funnel for players who do decide to take on the risk of driving the green.