For Jimmy Walker, Sunday’s final round at Baltusrol Golf Club was a culmination of a lifetime’s work. His fourth successive day at the top of the leaderboard, Walker held his nerve to claim his first major title, becoming the first wire-to-wire winner of the PGA Championship since Phil Mickelson, who won at Baltusrol in 2005.
Walker, who had never finished higher than seventh at any previous majors, held off the advances of defending champion and world number one Jason Day by carding an impressive 67 to finish on 14 under par for the tournament and becoming the fourth first-time major winner of the 2016 season.
As Walker approached the final tee, he held a three-stroke lead over Day in second place. Not sticking to the script, Jason Day eagled the par-5 18th, with Walker needing a par to win or face the prospect of a playoff. Walker duly obliged as he two-putted his way into the record books.
“Brutal,” said Walker. “I was hoping to relax; I could have used it — but I wouldn’t have expected any less from Jason.”
Walker began his final round with consistency. Beginning on 11 under, Walker’s nine consecutive pars allowed him to be mistake-free; a birdie on 10 from the greenside bunker gave him some breathing room. Australian Day, who was wayward from the tee all day, did not pose a realistic challenge until he holed from 15 feet on 18 for an eagle. It proved to be too little too late.
“I was trying to make a run at Jimmy all day,” said Day, who finished at 13 under after also shooting a final-round 67. “I just couldn’t do it until the very end.”
For Walker, 37, the path to this glory in golfing’s highest echelons has been far from easy. After first joining the tour in 2005, Walker’s first win did not come until the end of 2013 in his 187th event. 2016 has been somewhat of a struggle; his highest finish was a tie for fourth. However, this year has seen all four of golf’s majors won by first-timers. Joining Walker as first-time major winners this year were the Masters champion Danny Willett; Dustin Johnson, who won the US Open; and Henrik Stenson, the British Open champ.
If 2016 has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. After many had predicted the pre-empted dominance from golf’s so-called power trio of McIlroy, Day and Spieth, the unexpected emergence of first-time major winners has given the game a rejuvenation.
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