Amid the pressure of competing to capture golf’s most coveted trophies, it’s easy to see why the game’s biggest stages yield the most compelling memories. While tradition, glory, and lore have come to define these historic moments, many of the iconic images that continue to resonate with fans have occurred since 1979, the year TaylorMade was founded. That’s certainly true of the PLAYERS Championship.
With a golf course designed specifically to elicit drama down the stretch, the PLAYERS Championship has reliably provided a collection of unforgettable finishes, by both favorites and underdogs, with the infamous island green at TPC Sawgrass inevitably a part of the story. Here, then, are the top five PLAYERS Championship moments in the TaylorMade era.
No. 5 – 2019 Rory McIlroy
It was a battle of the ages between warriors from different eras when Rory McIlroy, then 29, and Jim Furyk, 48, engaged in a stirring duel. After a stunning approach to three feet at 18 and subsequent birdie, Furyk looked to be the winner. McIlroy, however, wouldn’t be denied. A brilliant fairway bunker shot at 15 netted him a tying birdie. A two-putt birdie at 16 gave him the lead. Two brave pars at 17 and 18 gave him a one-stroke victory. “It means everything to be the PLAYERS champion,” said McIlroy. “It’s the toughest tournament to win, with the deepest field in the world. There are great names on this trophy and I’m honored and proud to put my name on with them.”
No. 4 – 2002 Craig Perks
Winless and ranked just 203rd in the world, New Zealand’s Craig Perks arrived at the par-five 16th hole in the final round of the PLAYERS one shot behind Stephen Ames. He erased that with one swing, a chip-in eagle from the rough. Perks nearly topped that by sinking a frighteningly quick 28-foot birdie putt at 17. In trouble off the tee at 18, Perks seemed certain to lose his two-shot lead. After three shots, he still hadn’t reached the green. No matter. Perks turned the triple play, holing his chip for par to capture what many call “golf’s fifth major.” In one of golf history’s greatest underdog triumphs, Perks accomplished the unthinkable in incomparable fashion.
No. 3 – 1982 Jerry Pate
In 1981, Jerry Pate broke a threeyear victory drought at Memphis and celebrated with a dive into the water. But Pate was eager to make a bigger splash. He got his wish nine months later. In the first PLAYERS Championship contested at Pete Dye’s relentlessly challenging TPC Sawgrass, Pate started the final round tied for sixth, three shots back. Using a trendy orange ball, Pate birdied both the 17th and the 18th for a 67 and a two-shot win. In a watery redux, he celebrated by plunging into the greenside lake at 18, dragging in Dye and PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman—who conceived of the Stadium Golf concept—with him.
It is officially THE PLAYERS Championship week! Jerry Pate won THE PLAYERS the first time it was held at TPC Sawgrass in 1982. Pate followed his win by tossing Pete Dye and Deane Beman both into the lake at #18 – then jumping in himself. #TPC40 pic.twitter.com/fMeNwSLD2M
— TPC Network (@PlayTPC) March 9, 2020
No. 2 – 2015 Rickie Fowler
One of golf’s most popular players arrived at the PLAYERS stung by a magazine’s reference to him as “overrated.” He responded with a stretch run for all time. Over the final six holes of regulation, Fowler was six-under-par—scorching TPC Sawgrass with an eagle and four birdies sandwiched around a par. In the three-hole aggregate playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, Fowler birdied 17 again. When he and Kisner then faced off at sudden death, Fowler planted a nervy shot to five feet at the 17th, and rolled in the clinching putt. Three straight birdies on the intimidating island green 17th gave Fowler the PLAYERS Championship trophy and sweet revenge on his detractors.
No. 1 – 2001 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods captured the 1994 U.S. Amateur at TPC Sawgrass, but he had yet to win the PLAYERS Championship as a professional. That would change in dramatic fashion. During Saturday’s third round, the World No. 1 faced a brutal, double-breaking 60-foot putt at the iconic 17th. No one had put it close from that spot all day. Tiger rapped the putt with his usual authority then watched as we watched. “How’s that looking?” Johnny Miller asked on the telecast. “Better than most,” came Gary Koch’s response. “Better than most,” Koch repeated. “Better than most!” Koch shouted, as Tiger’s massive putt found the hole. Woods’s 67 the following day brought him the title.