Walker strolls to victory in season's final major
Post by Sports Writer, Derek Clements
JIMMY WALKER became the fourth first-time major winner of 2016 when he held off the challenge of defending champion Jason Day, who eagled the final hole, to claim the US PGA Championship and, with it, the giant Wanamaker Trophy at Baltusrol, New Jersey.
The 37-year-old American joined Masters champion Danny Willett, US Open winner Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, the Open champion after leading from start to finish. Having won five times in 18 months, Walker shot up the world rankings and made his Ryder Cup debut for the USA at Gleneagles in 2014, but he has had a poor season and there had been few signs that he was capable of producing such tremendous form. He drove the ball magnificently and holed a lot of putts that mattered.
He didn't drop a single shot in a final round of 67 and beat Day by a shot with his 14-under-par total of 266.
Walker parred every hole on the front nine and was struggling to find inspiration. Then he birdied the 10th thanks to a holed bunker shot and followed it with a huge putt for another birdie at the 11th. Day dropped shots at the first and third but got them back with birdies at the fifth and ninth and collected another at the 11th. Playing just ahead of Walker, Day was 11 under par and two behind the American.
Jimmy Walker cruised to victory at Baltusrol
Henrik Stenson, the Open champion, arrived at Balstrusol fearing that he would struggle after his heroics at Troon, but he opened with a pair of 67s and then added another to start the final day on nine under par. He birdied the sixth to move to 10 under and then reeled off a succession of pars.
Branden Grace, out way before the leaders, got to 10 under par at the 13th with his fourth birdie of the day - with two par fives still to play, the South African must have fancied his chances of posting a challenging score but he dropped a shot at the 16th and was unable to birdie either of the closing holes. His 67 gave him a 72-hole total of 271, nine under par. He knew it wouldn't be good enough, but he had performed brilliantly in yet another major. His time will come.
The first man to beat that total was Daniel Summerhays, who birdied the 18th for a 66. At 10 under, he knew that he had probably come up at least three shots short.
Tyrrell Hatton, of England, continued his recent run of fine form, his closing round of 68 taking him to seven under par, which was the same score as Paul Casey. Hatton nearly won the Scottish Open and played superbly at The Open - this performance just might be enough to convince Darren Clarke that Hatton merits a spot on Europe's Ryder Cup team.
Padraig Harrington, of Ireland, completed a great weekend, following his third-round 65 with a 68 and a finishing score of 274, six under par.
Spare a thought for Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan. He struck one glorious approach after another but couldn't buy a putt. He finished with on nine under after a 68 that could quite easily have been six or seven shots better.
With holes starting to run out, Stenson knew that he had to make something happen. Pushing for a birdie at the 15th he overshot the green, fluffed his pitch and walked off the green with a double-bogey six. At eight under, his race was run. He parred the final three holes for a 71.
It now looked like a two-horse race between Day and Walker. The only other player on the course who could challenge them was Brooks Koepka, who moved to 10 under with a birdie at the 15th, but gave it straight back at the 16th. With two closing par fives, the young American knew that he would have to pick up at least three shots. It was a tall order. In the end, he could only birdie the 18th.
Walker was playing as well as he has for two years, hitting fairways and finding the middle of the greens. At the 13th he struck another top-class iron shot, the ball finishing about 15 feet from the hole. Could he find another birdie and go three ahead? It trickled past the hole. Up ahead, Day was struggling to get the ball close enough to the hole to give himself the birdie chances he required. On hole after hole it seemed that he was leaving himself 40-50-foot putts.
Walker got a huge break at the 15th when a rare wayward drive struck a tree but somehow managed to get through all the branches. His approach from the rough found the green and he two-putted for another stress-free par. Minutes earlier, Day had drained a 10-footer on the same hole to save his par.
The leader's nerves were tested to the limit at the par-three 16th. He put his tee-shot 40 feet from the hole, raced the ball fully four feet beyond the cup and duly dropped the next one for another par. After a huge amount of rain, the course was playing extremely long and with conditions still extremely damp under foot, preferred lies were in operation.
And so we came to the 615-yard par-five 17th, where Day found the rough with his drive and left himself with an uphill putt of about 12 feet for a birdie. With Walker in the middle of the fairway after hitting a 310-yard drive and still two ahead, It was vital that the Australian holed it, but he missed. Moments later, Walker faced a birdie putt of the same length but he made it to go 14 under and lead by three.
Up ahead, Day struck a world-class approach to the last hole, his ball coming to rest 15 feet from the hole. An eagle would mean that Walker could par the 18th and still win. In it went to take him to 13 under par after a closing round of 67. Walker hit an iron at the last and then hit a three wood that finished in the rough to the right of the putting surface. Could Walker hold his nerve? He pitched the ball fully 35 feet beyond the ball. So the equation was now straightforward - two putts for a par and Walker's first major. He rolled his first effort three feet past the cup but holed the return.
Jordan Spieth completed what, for him, was a disappointing tournament with a total of 274, six under par and tied with Patrick Reed. He struck the ball well enough from tee to green but, for once, struggled on the greens. Unusually, he couldn't get the ball up to the hole. Martin Kaymer, of Germany, finished on eight under after holing an eagle putt at the last for a round of 66
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