Depending on your point of view, the 17th hole of the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, that notorious island green that has led to more watery casualties than a full-scale naval battle, is either an absorbing, drama-guaranteed whoop-and-holler-fest or a one-dimensional affront to golfing dignity.

As one of this scribe’s more critical colleagues observed, “it’s a circus designed to appeal to the same sort of people who sit on hairpin bends at Grand Prix races waiting for cars to crash and people to die.”

On a hole measuring just 137 yards and with a green that’s 78 feet long, some 100,000 balls are retrieved from the water every year.


Infographic courtesy of golfbidder

Russell Knox added a few of his own to that tally a couple of years ago when he endured a crippling calamity during The Players Championship.

“It’s such an easy shot . . . when you have no nerves or adrenaline,” said Knox, whose eye-watering nine during the third round of that 2016 event saw him plummet out of the top 10 yet rocket in the popularity stakes for the cheery way he dealt with the unfolding farce.

READ MORE: Players Championship remains a major player

Knox plunged three balls into the lake – his second attempt at a tee-shot resulted in a shank – before trudging to the drop zone and eventually finding dry land.

“I’ve never shanked a pitching wedge off a tee before,” he recalled. “It was an epic fail. Until you’re in that position, you don’t understand what it feels like. Your blood is just pumping through your brain.

“It’s a different story once you’ve hit two in a row in the water. The green felt like it was the size of aquarter. I should have gone to the drop zone after the first tee shot. I ended up making an awesome putt for nine.”

Knox, the world No.64, is back at Sawgrass this week as The Players gets held in March again for the first time since 2006.

As part of a sizeable British and Irish contingent competing in the so-called “fifth major”, Inverness exile Knox and the rest will be trying to knock off something of a rarity; a win in this neck of the golfing woods.

Since its inception in 1974, only oor ain’ Sandy Lyle has succeeded at Sawgrass. The decorated, trailblazing Scot was the first European to win The Players Championship in 1987 and remains the only British or Irish golfer to claim the PGA Tour’s flagship title.

There have been a few close shaves, of course. The likes of Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo and Padraig Harrington have all been runners-up down the years, while Scotland’s Martin Laird and Englishman Ian Poulter have also finished joint second.

As always, the super trouper will be shining a lot on Rory McIlroy, pictured inset, as he seeks a first win on the tour in 12 months.

The Northern Irishman’s recent record hints at the drought coming to an end. He’s been sixth, second, fourth, fifth and fourth in his last five events.

The four-time major winner has not missed a cut since last June, but that steady consistency, something which he often found difficult to muster, doesn’t appease some of the hand-wringing observers who continue to question, somewhat strangely, the 23-time tour winner’s ability to close out a victory. Golf has always been a fickle game.

“It’s very hard to be the guy that comes out on top, just by the nature of this game,” conceded the world No.2, Justin Rose. “A break, a putt that lips out, something that doesn’t go your way, it’s very difficult to control every variable in play.

“He’s putting himself in contention, and I’m sure he’s getting hungrier.” That hunger may be satiated sooner rather than later . . .