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Stars align for weary Walker

Updated: 2016-08-02 08:01
By Associated Press in Springfield, New Jersey (China Daily)

PGA Championship marathon capped by dramatic win over Day

Jimmy Walker was tired, but happy.

On the longest final day at the PGA Championship in 64 years, he produced three big birdies on the back nine at Baltusrol and held his nerve against the No 1 player in the world to the very end, closing with a 3-under 67 on Sunday for a one-shot victory over defending champion Jason Day.

 Stars align for weary Walker

Jimmy Walker gets a kiss from his wife Erin after winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, on Sunday. Seth Wenig / AP

Walker built a three-shot lead with an eight-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th, only to watch Day blast a 3-wood onto the green at the par-5 18th to 15 feet for an eagle, setting off the loudest cheer of the week and cutting the margin to one shot.

Needing only a par to win, Walker went for the green but left the ball in deep rough to the right and well below. He safely pitched to 35 feet, and the putt settled three feet past the hole. He never felt more nerves over such a short putt, but there was never a doubt.

Walker calmly pumped his fist twice and embraced his caddie Andy Sanders, whom he met at Baltusrol in the 2000 US Amateur when they played a practice round.

It was a long road to his first major for the 37-year-old American, and it ended with a marathon.

"Sometimes, things just don't come easy," Walker said after hoisting the 37-pound Wanamaker Trophy, amazing that he had any strength left after a 36-hole final day brought on by rain over the weekend.

"He really put it on me to make a par. Sometimes pars are hard. But we got it. It was amazing. It was a battle all day."

Day, trying to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the PGA Championship in stroke play, came out to the 18th green with his son to watch the finish and quickly found Walker. "Great stuff, mate," he said.

In a most peculiar final day at a major, the PGA Championship allowed for preferred lies - that never happens in a major - because of nearly four inches of rain during the week that drenched the Lower Course.

Desperate to beat the clock and avoid a second straight Monday finish at Baltusrol, the pairings stayed the same for the final round.

Walker and Day were playing with occasional mud on their golf balls on the back nine of the third round on Sunday morning while some players behind them were able to lift, clean and place their golf balls in short grass in the fourth round.

But it ended on a happy note for Walker. He is a major champion, completing a sweep of first-time winners in the majors this year. Better yet, it moved him from No 29 to No 4 in the Ryder Cup standings, all but assuring him a spot on the team.

Walker is a late bloomer who has received as much attention in recent years for his astrophotography, with some of his work recognized by NASA. He needed a performance that was out of this world on a wet and wild Sunday, and he delivered every step of the way.

He shot 68-67 on the final day to finish at 14-under 266, one shot from David Toms' record score in the 2001 PGA Championship.

Walker played the final 28 holes without a bogey. He began the back nine by holing a 45-foot bunker shot on No 10 and making a 30-foot birdie putt on No 11.

The final birdie was the most important. Walker twice had to back off his 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th when he heard the crowd erupt after Day's shot into the 18th.

It slipped in the edge of the cup for birdie, and Walker had the cushion he needed.

British Open champion Henrik Stenson, trying to join Ben Hogan as the only players to win back-to-back majors at age 40, finally faded away with a double bogey on the 15th hole.

"It was a long day. I never felt like I brought my 'A' game," said Stenson, who started the final round two shots behind and closed with a 71.

"I think I hit more poor shots in the two rounds today than in the previous six or seven rounds combined."

Phil focused on majors

Phil Mickelson has not won a title since capturing his fifth major crown at the 2013 British Open, but the 46-year-old American left-hander still likes his chances at majors.

Mickelson, who battled Henrik Stenson in the final round of the British Open two weeks ago before settling for second, fired a two-under par 68 on Sunday to finish with a three-under 277 at the PGA Championship, well behind the leaders over a rain-soaked Baltusrol course.

After struggling since his major win at Muirfield, Mickelson is finally excited to play again because he can feel top form returning.

"Certainly the play this year at the British tells me that I'm able to play at a high level," Mickelson said. "I'm starting to see my game come back. I'm starting to hit the shots again, what I'm visualizing, and doing it with ease now.

"I don't know what would hold me back. My love for the game and desire is as strong as it has ever been. It has taken me a year to get my game back after two and a half years of really struggling. The only thing that's missing is the final result, but it has been very close."

Mickelson was second at Memphis and Pebble Beach this season as well as to Stenson at Royal Troon, but he will have more chances to collect that elusive triumph in the US PGA playoffs.

"I wouldn't say the lack of a win this year would be a failure, but it wouldn't be as successful as I want or expect," Mickelson said. "I'm optimistic heading into these next few events because I'm starting to hit shots."

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 08/02/2016 page22)

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