10 of the Most Memorable Moments in Players Championship History

01
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Tiger's Better Than Most, Jack Gets It Started Right

Tiger Woods celebrates after making a 60-foot birdie from the 17th hole fringe in the 2001 Players Championship
Tiger Woods celebrates after making a 60-foot birdie from the 17th hole fringe in the 2001 Players Championship. Harry How/Getty Images

The Players Championship has been around since 1974 and has a history chock full of memorable moments. Here and on the following pages we look back at some of the best (plus a couple of the worst) scores, shots, wins and other happenings in tournament history.

Tiger Woods: Better Than Most

This is the Tiger Woods' putt that is forever known as the "Better Than Most" putt because of announcer Gary Koch's call. It happened in the third round of the 2001 Players Championship, the year Woods went on to his first victory in that tournament.

In the PGA Tour's official stats, it didn't even count as a putt because Tiger's ball was just on the back fringe. He was putting from a spot where most golfers didn't even get close, Koch informed Johnny Miller.

As Woods' ball reached the fall line of a ridge in the green, Koch said, "Johnny, that's better than most." As it got closer to the hole he repeated, "Better than most," as Miller interjected, "How about in?" And as the ball caught the edge of the cup, Koch, his voice louder, said one final time, "Better than most!"

NBC replays it - as much to promote their announcer Koch as for Woods' putt - approximately one million times during every Players Championship.

It's certainly one of the best putts in this tournament's history. (Video on YouTube)

Nicklaus Wins No. 1

The first Players Championship wasn't named that; in fact, the PGA Tour wasn't even officially named "PGA Tour" (although everyone called it that). In 1974, The Tournament Players Division (the official name changed to PGA Tour in 1975) staged the first Tournament Players Championship (the name changed to The Players Championship in 1988).

And TPC Sawgrass wasn't in existence yet. But Jack Nicklaus was! And if you're going to debut a new tournament that is touted as your tour's flagship event, it doesn't hurt to have Nicklaus win it. Which he did, at Atlanta Country Club.

Nicklaus also won in 1976 and 1978 - none of them at TPC Sawgrass, which didn't open until 1980 and didn't host The Players until 1982 - and remains the only 3-time champion.

02
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Throwing Dye and the Commish in the Water, Plus a Players' Revolt

General view of TPC Sawgrass in 1992
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Jerry Pate Tosses Course Architect, Tour Commish Into Water

The Players Championship began in 1974, TPC Sawgrass opened in 1980, and the first time the tournament was played at TPC Sawgrass was 1982.

Jerry Pate's performance would have been remembered no matter what - he birdied the final two holes to win, and was playing with an orange golf ball (one of the first seen on Tour). But what Pate did during the trophy presentation ensured the fame of this tournament.

He threw course designer Pete Dye and Tour commissioner Deane Beman into the water by the 18th green. And then Pate leaped in himself.

It was celebratory goofiness, but with an edge: the players at The Players were not happy at all with the brand-new TPC Sawgrass, with Dye's design that was built at Beman's behest. Which leads us to ...

Pros Stage Revolt Against TPC Sawgrass

TPC Sawgrass is considered a gem today, but when the pros first played it in The Players Championship in 1982, most of them hated it. It was simply unlike any other course they played, with odd angles and, especially, severely undulating and in some cases mounded greens. Jack Nicklaus' famous quote about those greens: “I’ve never been good at stopping 5-irons on the hoods of Volkswagens.”

At the 1983 Players Championship, the players posted a petition in the locker room demanding changes to the course. It was simply too penal, they argued, and most golfers there that week signed the petition.

A players committee that included Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw went to course architect Pete Dye and commissioner Deane Beman with a list of requested changes, chief among them removing humps and bumps from the centers of greens. Dye balked at any changes, but Beman was amenable.

The course was smoothed out a bit before the 1984 Players Championship, and much of what the players considered its harshest elements smoothed over in ensuing years.

03
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Old Guy Holds Off Tiger; Bird Steals the Ball

Hal Sutton celebrates his birdie putt on 11th hole during final round of 2000 Players Championship
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Hal Sutton Holds Off Tiger

Hal Sutton was on a roll: Six of his 14 PGA Tour wins came in the period from 1998 through 2001. So it's not surprising that Sutton was capable of winning The Players Championship in 2000.

But he was 41 years old, and the player chasing him down the stretch was Tiger Woods, who was at the peak of his game. Woods had won the five previous stroke play tournaments he played and this was the year he completed the "Tiger Slam."

Sutton didn't fold, though, and his approach shot on the final hole is one of the most replayed highlights in tournament history. Sutton stuck that shot eight feet from the pin from about 180 yards. And as he watched the ball in flight, Sutton uttered the words that are now replayed during every broadcast: "Be the right club ... be the right club today!"

It was.

Seagull Steals the Ball, and the Show, at 17th

Steve Lowery was after birdies, but this isn't quite what he had in mind.

During the 1998 Players Championship Lowery's tee ball found the putting surface on the 17th hole. Nice and safe. Until ...

Until a curious seagull alighted on the green and started trying to pick up Lowery's ball. Lowery could only watch as he walked toward the green as the seagull, after several attempts, finally kept the ball in its beak and took off. (Video on YouTube)

Alas, the seagull dropped the ball once it was over water. No golf balls for that gull family to play with.

But what about Lowery? What was the ruling? Under Rule 18-1, the seagull was an outside agency, and Lowery put a new ball down on the green as close to the original spot as could be determined. No penalty.

The bird, on the other hand, was penalized two strokes for failure to replace the ball.

04
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Players Championship Moments: Craig Perks' Amazing Finish

Craig Perks holes out on 16th for eagle during final round of 2002 Players Championship
Craig Perks after holing out for eagle on the 16th during the final round of the 2002 Players Championship. Craig Jones/Getty Images

Craig Perks was a journeyman pro when he got into the 2002 Players Championship. He had zero PGA Tour wins before, and he had zero PGA Tour wins after. But that week, he was the best player in the field.

It's his finish that makes Perks' victory so memorable: He played the final three holes in 3-under par, scoring 9 on the par-5, par-3 and par-4 closing stretch. It's been called one of the greatest finishes in tournament history, for the score but also for the way Perks did it:

  • Perks was coming off a bogey on the 15th after missing a putt of less than two feet. His approach to the par-5 16th green very nearly went in the water, but caught a narrow strip of rough on the right side of the green. It appeared the wheels were falling off.
  • Instead, Perks chipped in for eagle to take the lead.
  • His tee shot on the 17th hit the center of the green, and Perks rolled in the unlikely 28-foot birdie putt.
  • But Perks hit a bad drive on the 18th (Johnny Miller called him "idiotic" for using his driver) and had to chip back out to the fairway. His approach went over the green and just into the thicker rough behind it. Perks had to get up-and-down to win the tournament.
  • And Perks chipped it in again.

So over the final three holes, he had two chip-ins plus a nearly 30-foot birdie putt on the island green.

05
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Water Torture at TPC Sawgrass for Sergio, Tway

Sergio Garcia hitting from the 17th tee during final round of 2013 Players Championship
Sergio Garcia and the fans watch as his hopes disappear into the water around the 17th green at the 2013 Players Championship. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sergio's Water Torture in 2013

Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods were paired in the third round of the 2013 Players Championship, and Garcia didn't like some of the fan and media jostling and noisemaking that went on. After the round, he blamed Woods for the distractions, and the two exchanged insults. (Continuing a long-running disaffection for one another.)

Fast-forward to the latter stage of Round 4. Garcia and Woods - not playing together this time - are tied for the lead at 13-under par when Garcia arrives at the island green 17th.

By the time Garcia left the 17th green, he was four behind. He hit his tee ball into the water, then dumped his next shot, from the drop zone, into the drink, too. A quadruple-bogey 7. For good - make that bad - measure, Garcia double-bogied 18th.

Not the first, and certainly not the last, late contender whose chances drowned in the water around the 17th green. But the battle with Woods - on and off the course - makes this one more memorable.

Bob Tway's 12

Pity poor Bob Tway. He's in the tournament recordbook, but in a way no pro wants: As the holder of a highest-score record.

Tway's 12 is the worst score ever on TPC Sawgrass' iconic 17th hole during The Players Championship. It happened during the third round of the 2005 tournament, at a time he was only four strokes off the lead.

Tway's tee shot found the water, then his attempt from the drop zone went in the water, as did his next two attempts. He finally got his ball on the green on attempt No. 5. And then 3-putted.

06
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Players Championship Moments: Fowler's Fantastic Finish

Rickie Fowler celebrates with the winner's trophy after the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship in 2015
Rickie Fowler shows off the trophy after his remarkable win at the 2015 Players Championship. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

A couple pages earlier we spotlighted the amazing finish of Craig Perks en route to winning in 2002. Rickie Fowler's finish in 2015 rivals and arguably surpasses Perks'. No question these are the top two contenders for greatest finish in tournament history.

What did Fowler do? Five shots off the lead through 12 holes of his final round, Fowler birdied the 13th and parred the 14th. And then went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to finish. His 11 strokes over the final four holes set a new TPC Sawgrass record during The Players Championship.

But that didn't win it for him. No, it just got Fowler into a 3-hole, aggregate score playoff against Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner. Fowler birdied the 17th again during that playoff, but was still tied with Kisner (Garcia dropped out).

So Fowler and Kisner returned to the 17th to begin sudden death. And that's when Fowler won the tournament with another birdie. Yes, Fowler birdied TPC Sawgrass' island-green 17th three times in the same day.