It's the biggest battle between risk and reward on the course, and it often plays a pivotal role in determining the eventual winner.
The 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale is fraught with peril: a horseshoe of water surrounds one of the most unique putting surfaces on the Stadium Course. Players needing to rally can view it as a birdie or potential eagle opportunity, but a shot that's just a few feet off the mark can sometimes lead to bogey or worse.
At just 332 yards on the scorecard, No. 17 is a hole where some players can try 3-wood off the tee and still reach the green. Last year it played as the 15th hardest (or fourth easiest) hole for the week, playing to an average of 3.741 as a par-4. It also happens to be the site of the only hole-in-one on a par-4 in PGA Tour history, as Andrew Magee made an unpredictable ace during this event in 2001 that included a bounce off the putter blade of one of the players in the group ahead of him.
Last year Tony Finau missed an 8-foot birdie putt on this hole during the final round that would have clinched the victory. Webb Simpson holed a birdie putt of his own from just inside that distance and went on to win in a playoff. It wouldn't be surprising to see this particular hole once again play an outsized role in determining the final standings this weekend.
This week marks the debut of NBC Sports Edge BetCast, a fully betting-centric live second-screen experience airing on Peacock every round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open with live odds powered by PointsBet Sportsbook. Let's take a look at some of the notable numbers and trends behind the tempting but treacherous 17th.
A popular gamble off the tee
Despite the trouble lurking around the green, expect a majority of players in the field to try to drive the green this week on 17.
Last year the hole was played 397 times during the tournament, and a whopping 349 players went for the green, a nearly 88 percent clip. Now, finding the green was another story: only 69 players hit the green with their tee shot, meaning that just 19.8 percent of players who tried to drive the green ended up with an eagle putt. That rate was actually an increase from the prior year, as just 18 percent of players who tried to drive the green found the putting surface in 2019.
A big reason for the aggressive approach, in addition to the prospect of an easy birdie, is the fact that laying up isn't exactly simple. With cross bunkers guarding the center of the fairway, players can still face an uphill battle if an iron layup goes even slightly awry. Last year 48 players laid up off the tee, but only 29 subsequently reached the green in regulation. For those that laid up, the hole actually played over par (4.17 scoring average).
The longer the better
This hardly comes as a shock in today's game, but players who hit it longer off the tee last year had a leg up on the competition on the 17th hole. Now, that's partially because the penalty area guarding the left side of the green scarfed up a few shots (and halted their tee shot distance in the process). But those who were able to navigate the various obstacles toward the narrowing green had increasing success based on how far the tee shot traveled:
Overall 2020 "going for green" conversion rate: 69 of 349 shots (19.77 percent)
Conversion rate for 300+ yard tee shots: 69 of 288 (23.96 percent)
Conversion rate for 330+ yard tee shots: 5 of 19 (26.32 percent)
The average tee shot last year went 305 yards, while the five-year average on this hole is 302.5 yards. The longest tee shot a year ago actually went too far: it went 351 yards and rolled through the back of the green, narrowly missing the water off the back edge.
Beware the water
Speaking of the wet stuff, a tee shot into the water is a guarantee that a potential birdie opportunity will immediately turn into an uphill battle to save par.
The relatively low scoring average on 17 last year was driven in large part by those that found the green off the tee, an accurate shot that made birdie a likely outcome. The hole played much closer to par for players who went for the green and missed:
2020 scoring for those that drove the green: 3.16 (4 eagles, 50 birdies, 15 pars)
2020 scoring for those that went for green and missed: 3.81 (2 eagles, 95 birdies, 142 pars, 38 bogeys, 1 double bogey, 2 triple bogeys)
But the scoring trend rose significantly when looking just at the 51 players who found the water off the tee, even though one player was able to hole-out after taking a drop for an improbable birdie:
2020 scoring for tee shots in water: 4.65 (1 birdie, 19 pars, 29 bogeys, 1 double bogey, 1 triple bogey)
The previous year featured a dead-even split: in 2019 there were 32 water balls on this hole. Sixteen players managed to save par, while 16 left with a bogey.
Golf Channel Research Unit contributed to this report.
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