Sunday started with a bang at the Players Championship. After two aces already this week on TPC Sawgrass’ iconic par-3 17th, Alex Smalley added a record third hole-in-one on the island green.
His tee shot one-hopped off the fringe and never even touched the green as it dunked into the cup.
And while there is never not a great time for an ace, Smalley’s hole-in-one was especially timely after he made a double-bogey 7 on 16 just before stepping to the tee. Smalley started the round in a tie for 57th and was playing in the ninth group of the day with Jerry Kelly (who finished the tournament under par at age 56) for the second round in a row.
The ace got him back to even par for the tournament, but he couldn’t stay there, as he drove it in the trees on 18 and made bogey.
Smalley’s ace comes during what was already the first week with multiple aces on 17 in Players Championship history. Hayden Buckley got the party going on Thursday, and on Saturday Aaron Rai used the slope behind the front-left hole location to spin his ball back into the cup and get within shouting distance of the leaders. Rai then birdied 18 to become the first player ever to finish 4-1-3 (birdie-ace-birdie) on the Stadium Course’s last three holes. Buckley and Rai are the only players in tournament history ever to birdie 18 after making a hole-in-one on 17.
Smalley’s ace came with perhaps the most difficult hole location, the traditional Sunday spot of back right. Instead of taking it left of the small bunker in front of the green and using the slope, the 26-year-old took a direct line at the flag, nearly catching the bunker.
The ace was just the 13th on the famous par-3 at the Players, the first coming in 1986 by Brad Fabel.
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