Stargazer Walker sees his wish come true at USPGA

By Thomas Dodd

  • Jimmy Walker holds off defending champion Jason Day to win final major of 2016
  • American pars last to beat world number one by one shot on 14 under par
  • Brits Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton end week in top ten
NEW JERSEY, USA – Review from 98th PGA Championship as American Jimmy Walker holds off world number one Jason Day to claim his first major title at Baltusrol in New Jersey.

 

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It took until the 72nd hole for the 98th PGA Championship to finally take off.

For hours it seemed as though the tournament known as ‘Glory’s last shot’ would peter out and American Jimmy Walker would complete a fantastic wire to wire victory without any drama or edge of the seat excitement.

Not that the biggest four events in the game have to be won in an extravagant manner of course, and in many ways the golf world would have been greedy to expect another action-packed and contentious final day of a major championship in 2016.

After witnessing Jordan Spieth collapse at the Masters to leave Danny Willett last man standing at Augusta, Dustin Johnson‘s stoic performance in the face of a rules farce at the US Open and Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson‘s unforgettable record breaking duel at Troon two weeks ago it would have been fair to say enough was enough for one year, and that those watching did not have to be treated to a thriller in order to feel they had seen value for money.

Indeed, when Walker birdied his 71st hole – the long par five 17th – it seemed as though his serene, undisturbed march to a maiden major, which began with a sensational 65 on Friday morning, was a mere formality.

One hole ahead, Jason Day had other ideas. Principally, in the form of two strokes from the middle of the par-five 18th fairway. Trailing by three, the Australian world number one and defending champion launched a two iron into the stratosphere and after a little encouragement mid-flight sat back to take in the roar from those in the stands as the ball trickled its way to twelve feet.

The resulting eagle effort found the bottom of the cup, and it was Walker’s turn to experience a roar from the galleries on 18 as he stood looking on from the fairway. From a three shot lead, the equation had just become a little more tricky. There was now no room for error, a par five was essential or a playoff was the outcome.

The five-time PGA Tour winner stuck to his guns, threw a fairway wood green side, took no chances with his pitch and safely two putted to win by a stroke and become the fourth consecutive first time major winner in 2016 and fifth in a row going back to Day’s triumph at Whistling Straits in the same event 51 weeks previously.

14 under as a winning number may have been six lower than the Australian last year but this performance was one of the cleanest final rounds from a 54-hole leader in many a year. The perfect mix of aggression and control, Walker did not simply defend and play safe to the clubhouse, choosing to regularly hit driver and select clubs with the intention of going pin high.

It was perhaps fitting then that following a series of missed attempts on the front nine he recorded his first birdie of the day by holing a bunker shot on the tenth. A 30 foot bomb one hole later looked to have done enough, especially when he picked up another shot on Day with a four at 17.

But the defending champion proved he deserves his title as the best player in the game with one last-gasp hurrah which briefly sent the heart rate of those in the Walker camp upwards.

It’s a big camp too, judging on the quality of players on hand to congratulate the champion as soon as he confirmed his success with a three foot put on 18. Spieth and Rickie Fowler were first on the scene to hail their friend and Day was also present to shake hands and say ‘too good.’

Walker is an amateur Astro-photographer, electing to spend his spare time capturing the galaxies from his home in Texas. His golf was far from out of this world, but it was his star which shone brightest at the end of a mammoth 36-hole final day in New Jersey.

Some stars at the top of the game faded very quickly through the week. Dustin Johnson, who hadn’t finished outside the top ten in his last six starts never recovered from a seven over 77 in round one to miss the cut by several strokes, while other pre-tournament favourite Rory Mcilroy struggled round the greens and missed his second major cut of the season.

After Day on the minus 13 only Daniel Summerhays reached double digits for the week, as Branden Grace, Brookes Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama rounded out the top five ahead of Henrik Stenson, who for a while was the only one who could live with Day and Walker before a double bogey six at 15 saw the Open Champion finally run out of steam, while playing partner Martin Kaymer recorded his first top ten at a major outside of his US Open and PGA successes.

Tyrrell Hatton added another fine week to his ever growing resume and Paul Casey joined the young Englishman on seven under in a tie for tenth.

That was where Spieth ended up too, after another frustrating weekend with the flat-stick.

Britons Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan also finished under par, along with Ross Fisher, who was unable to maintain his fast start on Thursday afternoon.

Phil Mickelson battled bravely as ever and the 2005 PGA Champion at Baltusrol finished in a tie for 33rd on three under.

Fan favourite Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston rounded out his first USPGA on one over, four better than Masters winner Willett and six better than Lee Westwood, whose search for a major title will roll on into 2017.

Jimmy Walker’s quest is at an end however after a long weather-delayed four days in Springfield which saw the 37-year-old Texan – a self-confessed wine expert – come of age like a fine vintage.

Final Leaderboard: (US Unless stated) 

-14 Jimmy Walker
-13 Jason Day (AUS)
-10 Daniel Summerhays
-9 , Brookes Koepka, Branden Grace (RSA), Hideki Matsuyama (JPN)
-8 , Henrik Stenson (SWE), Robert Streb, Martin Kaymer (GER) 
-7 William McGirt, Tyrell Hatton (ENG), Paul Casey (ENG)

Selected Others (GB Unless Stated)

-6 Padraig Harrington, Jordan Spieth (USA)
-4 Justin Rose, Russell Knox
-3 Phil Mickelson (USA), 
-2 Jamie Donaldson, Ross Fisher
-1 Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan 
+1 Andrew Johnston 
+5 Danny Willett
+7 Lee Westwood

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