Boerne’s Jimmy Walker bested defending champion Jason Day, the world’s number one player, to win the rain-delayed PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. in dramatic fashion, shooting 65, 66, 68, and 67 to win his first major championship and his sixth PGA career win.
Victory came with a $1.8 million payday for Walker. It also vaulted Walker from 29th to 4th in Ryder Cup points, making him an all but certain automatic pick for the team that will face Europe at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Sashka, MN, Sept. 27-Oct. 2
Walker held the top spot on the leaderboard all week and throughout Sunday, but the win came only after a dramatic finish in which he edged Day by a single stroke. Both started the final round separated by one stroke, and that’s where they finished, both shooting 67s in the final round. Walker finished at 14-under par, Day at 13-under.
It took steady nerves and a strong finish by Walker to win. No one will doubt after Sunday that he has been tested and prevailed on one of golf’s biggest stages.
Baltusrol’s Lower Course, designed nearly a century ago by A.W. Tillinghast, who also designed Oak Hills Country Club and Brackenridge Golf Course in San Antonio, finishes with two par-fives.
With three holes to go, Walker held a two-stroke lead over Day. He then rolled in a birdie putt on the par-five 17th, moments after Day electrified the gallery on the par five 18th hole with a 260-yard 2 iron that came to a stop 14 feet from the hole. That put Day in good position to make eagle, but he glanced at the leaderboard as he approached the 18th green and saw that Walker now led by three strokes.
Day poured in his eagle, and pulled to within one stroke of Walker, who watched from the 18th fairway where his drive had settled. Many might have expected Walker to play conservatively and lay up for a certain par, but he took aim at the green with a 3-wood and pushed his shot into the deep rough right of the green. That left him with a long walk up the fairway crowded with spectators, contemplating a tough chip out of tall grass over a trap to the pin.
Walker needed par or better to close out Day. He lofted the ball out of the rough and left it 33 feet from the hole. Two putts later, he was hugging his caddie with joy and relief, a first-time major champion.
“Golf is not an easy game, and Jason is a great champion,” Walker said afterwards, citing Day’s closing eagle and his pressure-filled finish to avoid a playoff.
Day also shot four rounds in the 60s – 68, 65, 67, and 67 – coming within one stroke of being the first player after Tiger Woods in the modern era to defend his PGA crown.
Henrik Stenson, the recent winner of the British Open, finished at 8-under after shooting a one-over 71 Sunday and never really contending down the home stretch. Among the world’s other top-ranked players, fellow Texan Jordan Spieth finished highest, tied with five other players for 13th place at six-under, a distant eight shots behind the winner.
Walker became the first wire-to-wire winner of the PGA since it was last held at Baltusrol in 2005 and was won by Phil Mickelson.
Walker became the fourth first-time winner of a major this year. Danny Willett won the Masters at Augusta after Spieth’s Sunday back nine collapse; Dustin Johnson, who missed the cut at Baltusrol, won the United States Open at Oakmont; and Stenson won the British Open at Royal Troon.
Walker was 48th in the world rankings and 50th in the FedExCup rankings before his win Sunday. He’s now 15th in the world and 14th in the FedEx.It’s a return for the spotlight for Walker after a trying 2016 season. He won on the PGA Tour three times in 2014 and twice in 2015, including a win at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, where he beat Spieth by four strokes. He rose to No. 10 in the world rankings back then.
Walker has struggled this year, missing the cut five times in 19 tournaments with three Top 10 finishes – until he arrived at storied Baltusrol, which has hosted seven U.S. Open tournaments and now, two PGA Opens. Until his victory at Baltusrol, Walker had never started the final round of a major better than 10th place. This time he came in as the leader, and played like one, never surrendering the lead.
Rain delays washed out Saturday, forcing Walker and most of the other players to finish their third round Sunday morning and play their fourth round late in the afternoon. That didn’t deter Walker, who played his last 26 holes bogey-free.
Top image: Jimmy Walker of the United States celebrates with his wife Erin (left) and son Beckett after making par on the 18th hole to win the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on July 31, 2016 in Springfield, N.J. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.