- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. | The Players Championship has all the ingredients of the fifth-biggest tournament in golf.

It has the largest purse of any tournament at $9.5 million, with the winner getting nearly as much as Arnold Palmer earned in his PGA Tour career.

From top to bottom, it has the strongest field of the year. The list of winners in 30 years at the TPC Sawgrass includes Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

But to all fans, and most players, mention the tournament and the first thing that comes to mind is an island.

The Players Championship begins Thursday, and a steady stream of traffic will be going through the gates and toward the 17th hole, with an island green that makes it one of the most infamous holes in the world.

By the weekend, it turns into Jacksonville’s biggest sideshow this side of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party when Florida and Georgia play football.

“I think our pension is funded by beers sold on 17,” Paul Goydos said.

The signature hole on the TPC Sawgrass measures only 137 yards on the scorecard and is surrounded by water, an idea that Alice Dye drew up on the back of a cocktail napkin.

“It’s do-or-die, and I think spectators love that,” Luke Donald said. “Most of the other holes are pretty regular holes that you see week in and week out, but 17 is unique.”

The PGA Tour will offer live streaming on its website at the 17th, and asked several players their strategy on the hole.

Lucas Glover spoke for most when he said, “Hit it where I can hit it again.”

The island green is so much a part of the tournament that NBC Sports is devoting 11 cameras to the hole, which includes two periscope cams out of the water that can turn 360 degrees.

The 17th green rarely decides who wins, rather who loses.

The PGA Tour decided to make the 17th the sudden-death playoff hole in 2008. Sergio Garcia hit the green; Goydos did not.

Sean O’Hair was two shots behind Phil Mickelson in 2007 when his 9-iron carried just enough over the green — all it takes is an inch — and went into the water. He went from second place to 11th place, a difference of $747,000.

Tiger Woods holed a 60-footer that broke to the right, to the left and back to the right in the third round when he won the Players Championship, still one of the most famous moments.

Fred Couples has twice knocked it in from the tee box — once for an ace, once for a par after his first shot went into the water.

“I think 17, any other day, wouldn’t be too difficult because of the short iron,” Masters champions Charl Schwartzel said.

“But there’s such a big hype about it, and you get so many people sitting around it that I think that starts becoming the big, big factor around there.”