Jimmy Walker’s passion is astrophotography. It is unclear at which point he reckoned that, if taking pictures of the stars, he might as well shoot for them.
The sequence of first-time major winners continues. On a balmy Baltusrol evening, in concluding a tournament that had threatened to rumble into another week, Walker lifted the Wanamaker Trophy. This year’s four prime events have each had a player break his major duck.
Walker is the 98th US PGA champion, the reward for scores of 65, 66, 68 and 67 for a 14-under-par total. Walker’s margin of victory from Jason Day was one but, in truth, the outcome never looked in much doubt. That is until the very last hole of the tournament, when Walker carved a fairway wood into thick rough and had to scramble for par.
Perhaps his story is the most poetic of 2016. Three years ago, when 34, Walker claimed his first PGA Tour title. The trigger was sufficient for him to win twice in 2014 and the same number of times in 2015. From journeyman professional he went to top-50 in the world and, now, major holder.
Three moments were to define this tournament. Ultimately and thankfully, with luck playing a part, the forecast brutal weather did not.
When holding a one-stroke lead on the 10th, courtesy of nine straight pars, Walker made his first error by finding a greenside bunker. He was to hole out from there. The 37-year-old did likewise from 30ft at the 11th. On the 17th Walker nervelessly converted an 8ft putt seconds after Day had played a 254yd approach to the hole in front to eagle range. Only a Walker stumble would hand the trophy away from there.
Walker’s A-game might not be up there with the best in this sport but it is clearly sufficient when others fall short. It is testimony to Day that he pushed Walker as far as was the case, with the world No1 obviously performing at around 70%.
Day made that eagle on the 18th to leave Walker needing his par to win. Day had been two over par after three holes but battled back manfully before ultimately falling short in this title defence. Daniel Summerhays claimed third and a Masters berth at 10 under, one ahead of Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka.
Henrik Stenson had produced seven major rounds in the 60s before choosing the wrong time to post a 71. Stenson shared seventh with Robert Streb and Martin Kaymer.
Two Englishmen, Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey, sneaked into the top 10. Hatton, who shared fifth at the Open, closed with a 68 with Casey’s round four coming in at one shot better. Andrew “Beef” Johnston’s legend is such that one half expected him to conduct a chorus of Knees Up Mother Brown while topless on the 72nd green but the lower-key Hatton continues to suggest he may be the one to watch on grounds of talent. With every decent Casey finish, his refusal to make himself part of the Ryder Cup equation resonates more. Not that this will bother the man himself in the slightest.
The PGA of America had taken highly rare, but not unique, steps to ensure a Sunday finish. Lift, clean and place was controversially permitted the day after the tournament director, Kerry Haigh, labelled such a move as “highly unlikely” with round four played partly in tandem with the penultimate 18 holes.
The preferred lies option meant any returned score of 62 would not have counted as a major record but there was support from Phil Mickelson.
“I think it was a great call,” said Mickelson after signing off with a 68. “There’s so much element of luck involved if you don’t do that because of the amount of mud that will get on the ball as well as the inability to finish the round because of not being able to take full relief from the fairway. There were some spots where the only relief would end up being in the rough.
“I know it’s not ideal. Unfortunately it’s been the case this week because on the weekend this golf course was set up to be perfect for a major championship. The rain came and just softened the course.”
Padraig Harrington earned his finest major finish since 2012, tied 13th, after a closing round of 68. Perhaps the Irishman has had his competitive fires relit by imminent Olympic involvement. When asked about the prospect of another team playing appearance, at the Ryder Cup, the 44-year-old scoffed.
“I’m a little late in the game for that,” said Harrington, who has been named as a vice-captain to Darren Clarke. “No, I don’t see it happening. I’m happy in the role I’m in. If I start winning things, maybe that changes but at the moment it’s not really on my radar.”
It is for Walker. The road from 2013 has been paved with gold.
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