Wyndham Clark’s water ball on 17 may prove consequential — but not for the reason you’d think

Wyndham Clark of the United States reacts on the 17th tee during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on March 16, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Wyndham Clark reacts to his tee shot landing in the water during the third round of the 2024 Players Championship.

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After firing back-to-back rounds of 65 at TPC Sawgrass, Wyndham Clark had ascended to what is becoming an increasingly familiar position for him: tournament leader.

The reigning U.S. Open champ led by four shots at the Players Championship halfway mark, but Saturday’s third round was a different story. Two bogeys en route to a round of 70 opened the door for his chasers, and standout rounds by Xander Schauffele (65) and Brian Harman (64) closed the gap. Clark now trails Schauffele by one shot heading into Sunday’s final round.

The par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass was made for drama, and it delivered on Saturday. Tied for the tournament lead, Clark stood on the tee — and hit it fat, 20 yards short of the green into the water. It was a shocking moment for the current World No. 5 — and could have been a complete derailment of his hard-fought round. But what Clark did next was surprising. Instead of opting to play from the drop zone on his next shot, Clark re-teed, attempting again the very same shot he had just botched so badly.

Clark’s strategy paid off. His third shot was magnificent, landing about six-and-a-half feet from the hole. Then, he drained the putt to save himself from a devastating double bogey.

Depending on what happens on Sunday, it would be easy to point an accusatory finger at Clark’s water ball on the 17th on Saturday, but if Clark manages to claim his fourth PGA Tour victory Sunday, you could view what happened on the 17th in a different light: as evidence of Clark’s grit. After all, the ability to overcome that kind of adversity is what helps players win tournaments — not lose them.

“The ability to reset mentally, having made a fool of yourself in front of everybody in the heat of battle — duffing it cold in front of you, like a hacker would do — to reset and then play that quality shot takes a lot,” said analyst Paul McGinley on Golf Channel’s “Live From” on Saturday. “That shows you into that mindset of Wyndham Clark.”

Clark, too, is viewing his recovery effort on the 17th in a positive light.

“I’m hoping that’s a huge point in the tournament and we look back after tomorrow and look at that hole and say, hey, that was maybe the shot and the putt that meant it all,” he said after his round. “It’s unfortunate on a hole that’s so iconic and has a bunch of trouble to have kind of your worst swing of the day. But yeah, I followed it with a great swing and a great putt. I’m in the final group tomorrow, which is huge.”

It’s Clark’s sort of short memory and resilience that wins tournaments. And with so much at stake, Sunday’s final round at the Players is sure to be must-see TV.

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.