Strokes of genius, PGA

STEPHEN RIPLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

What do Darth Vader and this week's stop on the PGA Tour have in common?

No, it's not gasping and wheezing ... Craig Stadler won't be in the field. It's actually golf course architect Pete Dye, the man who designed the TPC at Sawgrass, the home of The Players Championship for the past 27 years.

Back in 1982, when the TPC first hosted the event, players complained vehemently about the tricked-up design of the new course, especially the 17th hole -- a short par-3 with a then-unique island green. Ben Crenshaw went so far as to call it "Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader."

But just as subsequent films softened the perception of Darth Vader, the passage of time has rehabilitated the image of Dye and his signature course. This week, scores of cameras will be trained on the 17th hole, documenting every safe landing and every splashdown, as millions of fans watch the drama unfold live on TV and the Internet.

So while it may not be the greatest hole in championship golf, Dye's infamous Island Green may well be the most recognizable.

10. No. 10 at Riviera Country Club

At a mere 315 yards, the 10th at Riviera is considered one of the best short par-4s in the world. The pros who play in the Northern Trust Open in February can easily reach the narrow putting surface from the elevated tee, giving them a shot at eagle. But missing the steeply sloping green, especially on the right, means an almost-certain bogey, as hitting it close from the rough or one of the four traps is all but impossible.

9. No. 18, Glen Abbey Golf Club

A reachable par-5 with water in front of the green and sand traps behind it, the final hole at Glen Abbey has been the scene of many dramatic Canadian Open finishes. In 2000, Tiger Woods hit a six-iron 218 yards from a fairway bunker to the back of the green to take the title. Four years later, Mike Weir's hopes of winning his national championship were doused when he found the water in a playoff against Vijay Singh.

8. No. 8 at Royal Troon

Despite measuring just 123 yards, the Postage Stamp is considered one of the toughest par-3s in championship golf. With a three- or four-club wind often howling in off the Firth of Clyde, players must somehow find the narrow green while avoiding five cavernous bunkers, one of which is aptly named the Coffin. Missing the green is not an option.

7. No. 18, Harbour Town Golf Links

No lead is safe at the Verizon Heritage tourney on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island. That's because of the 478-yard, par-4 finishing hole, which forces players to hit a long-iron approach over Calibogue Sound on the left, while avoiding the out-of-bounds stakes to the right. On the bright side, those who mess up on 18 will be spared the indignity of putting on that horrible tartan jacket they make the winners wear.

6. No. 16, TPC of Scottsdale

For 51 weeks each year, there isn't anything special about the 162-yard 16th hole on the Stadium Course at the TPC of Scottsdale. But during the FBR Open every January, this innocuous par-3 becomes the loudest hole in golf, enclosed by bleachers filled with leather-lunged -- and often drunken -- fans who cheer for good shots and lustily boo those that miss the green. Tiger made a hole-in-one here in 1997 and still hasn't recovered his hearing.

5. No. 17, TPC at Sawgrass

Pete Dye's infamous Island Green is a favourite with fans but loathed by players, especially those who arrive at the 17th tee on Sunday with a lead. The hole measures only 132 yards in length, but nerves, swirling winds and the lack of a bailout option conspire to make it one of the most diabolical on the PGA Tour. Although he has called it "gimmicky," Tiger added to the hole's lore in 2001 when he drained a double-breaking 60-footer en route to the title.

4. No. 18, Carnoustie

Played downwind, from the forward tees, without the pressure of winning an Open Championship, it's hard to see what's so tough about Carnoustie's dreaded closing hole. But when played into the teeth of a stiff gale, as it was in 1999 and 2007, this 499-yard, par-4 becomes a monster. Two years ago, contenders Sergio Garcia, Andres Romero and Padraig Harrington each found the Barry Burn, which cuts through the fairway in two places. And who can forget the gong show in 1999, when Jean Van de Velde took a seven to blow a three-shot lead.

3. No. 12, Augusta National

The most demanding par-3 in the world is Augusta National's Golden Bell. At least that's what Jack Nicklaus says. What makes this 155-yarder so tough is way the green angles from left to right, eliminating the margin of error for off-line tee shots. Push it and you're in Rae's Creek; pull it and you're in the back bunker or looking for your ball in the azaleas behind the green.

2. No. 18, Pebble Beach

With the Pacific Ocean crashing onto the rocks below, the par-5 finishing hole at Pebble Beach provides the ideal combination of natural beauty and golfing drama. At 543 yards, the 18th is reachable in two shots, but only after a perfect drive hugging the shoreline and an equally good approach over a sand trap on the right side which guards the traditional Sunday pin position. One of the hole's most memorable moments came 25 years ago, when Hale Irwin's duck-hooked tee shot was headed for Carmel Bay until it bounced off a rock and back onto the fairway, allowing him to make a fluke birdie and beat Canadian Jim Nelford in the 1984 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

1. No. 17, Old Course at St. Andrews

The difference between "gimmicky" and "quirky," it seems, is about 400 years of history. Both descriptions apply to the tee shot on the Road Hole at St. Andrews, which requires golfers to hit over part of the Old Course Hotel in order to find the fairway. On the approach to this 455-yard par-4, players must avoid a footpath, a road and a stone wall behind the sliver-thin green, while being careful not to end up behind the near-vertical walls of the bunker in front. The Road Hole has been the road to ruin for many Open Championship contenders, including Tom Watson in 1984 and David Duval in 2000.

Disagree with our picks? E-mail yours to topten@sunmedia.ca


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