Don't aim left!

Players Championship: How to spot when a player is about to blow it on golf's scariest tee shot

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The famed par-3 17th hole is the toast of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, and by extension, the Players Championship. But for as spooky as that tee shot is, most players admit it's one that comes on the next hole that is the most terrifying.

On the 17th, players at least have the comfort of a short iron in their hands. On the tee shot at the 467-yard par-4 18th, players need to navigate water left and trees right. In an era where most tour pros' go-to shots are fades, it's a hole that forces most to call upon a less comfortable draw.

All this as they're trying to get their round to the house—perhaps even with the trophy on the line.

So, how can you tell when a player is about to end up on dry land—or when you're going to see his hopes sink in the water?

It's actually a little easier than you might think.

First, you need to understand the concept called the Cone of Misses. It's a concept championed by Scott Fawcett, founder of Decade Golf, and we dive into it in the video below, so give it a watch.

In a nutshell, the idea is to aim your cone of misses into a spot where your worst misses will end up on dry land. On this hole, Fawcett likes a line of about 300 yards at the trees on the right. It brings the trees in play somewhat, yes, but it creates a 35-yard buffer on the left side of your cone of misses, which means a golfers' leftmost shots should end up in the fairway rather than the water. In all, it's a fair trade.

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The good news is that this is what most golfers do: Aim at the trees on the right, and usually try to hit a draw. If a golfer follows this plan, they're probably going to end up in reasonably good shape. And by reasonably good shape, we mean on dry land.

Ending in the trees isn't the best spot, obviously, but everyone would rather end there than the water.

As Fawcett explains here:

Smart play: Aim at trees

You can see Chris Kirk aiming there during his second round on Friday, then hitting a near snap-hook that still found the fairway.

Justin Thomas, though he missed the cut this time, always takes this route, and usually plays the hole very well. It's how he won his Players Championship trophy back in 2021.

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Sam Burns aimed down this line on Friday evening, too. He took water out of play, ended in the trees, but still landed in a decent-enough spot where he would save par and make the cut on the number.

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The only exceptions to this are the really long hitters, like Rory McIlroy. Those players hit the ball so far they will often aim a little further left, because it can take some of the water out of play. But even still, that's an aggressive line that doesn't always work; McIlroy was six under on his first eight holes during his opening round, then pulled his drive in the water on 18, eventually making a bogey).

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Choke Alert: Aiming too far left

Thanks to the broadcast this week, we get a great aerial view of the tees hot, which gives us a fantastic look at where golfers are aiming. That's what to look for as the Players Championship pressure cranks up this weekend:

• If you see a player aiming towards, or even right, of the trees, there's a good chance they're not going to make a score worse than bogey. That's a win on a hole as difficult as this.

• If you see a player aiming left of that, down the middle of the fairway, sound the alarm. Yes, they may pull it off, but they're putting a lot of pressure on themselves to hit a good shot. Their odds aren't on their side, which means they're making a decision which may come back to bite them momentarily.