Perhaps this is Jimmy Walker’s time to finally win one of golf’s major championships.
Walker, who has five career victories but none in one of the four majors, shot a 5-under par 65 Thursday and leads the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club.
And with the three previous major winners this season all first timers -- Danny Willett at the Masters, Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open and Henrik Stenson at the British Open -- Walker is hopeful.
“I don’t think it’s coincidence or anything,” Walker said after a round that included six birdies and just one bogey. “They are all good players and it was just a matter of time. So just keep that rolling. All the guys that have done it this year are great players. It seems like anybody that’s out here playing in this championship or any other major has a right to be there. It’s because they’re good.”
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Three international players – Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, England’s Ross Fisher and Germany’s Martin Kaymer – are tied for second, one shot back. Four others, led by Stenson, are tied for fifth at 3 under. Rickie Fowler, perhaps the leader of the “never won a major” pack, is also right there, three shots back after shooting a 68. Reigning PGA champion Jason Day also shot a 68.
Walker hopes to keep things going through Sunday.
“I do know that on Sunday with a chance to win, it will feel bigger,” he said. “So I look forward to having that chance. It will be bigger.”
▪ Charlotte resident Webb Simpson – who has won a major (the 2012 U.S. Open) – is in contention, shooting a 1-under 69 and is tied for 21st. “It played tough out there, with some rain and windy, happy to be 1-under,” Simpson said.
▪ Will weather become a factor? There’s a 90 percent chance of rain Friday, and the front bringing it in began to arrive late Thursday afternoon. It brought some sprinkles and, as importantly, some relief from the heat.
▪ Phil Mickelson, who was so excellent at the British Open, was anything but that Thursday. Ten days after his runner-up finish at Royal Troon, Mickelson shot a 1-over 71. “I was excited to compete and not have a month off for preparation,” said Mickelson, who was 4 over after 11 holes before rallying late in the round. “It’s always easier to shoot a good low number the first day. You’ve got momentum. I’ve got to shoot a good round (Friday) to get back in it.”
▪ In even worse shape than Mickelson, however, were Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. McIlroy didn’t have a birdie on his way to a 74. Johnson, the U.S. Open champion, ballooned to a 74.
McIlroy was especially unhappy with his putting and returned to the practice green after his round. “I’ll try to do as much as I can and not wear myself out,” he said after finishing his round.
▪ Stenson’s 67 was his fifth consecutive round in the 60s (stretching to all four rounds at the Open Championship).
▪ Day, Mickelson and McIlroy played together, with Day’s 68 easily the best of the threesome’s.
“I feel like I was just trying to stay in my own world,” Day said. “I can’t really control what those guys are going to do. Sometimes it does zap the energy out of the group when a couple of guys aren’t playing well. You have to get into your own world and stay there and focus on what you need to do.”
They said it
“It’s not the start I wanted. It’s not indicative of how I’m playing.” – Mickelson.
“I can’t remember the last time without a birdie. – McIlroy.
“Man, I hoofed it off the tee.” – England’s Andrew “Beef” Johnston, a crowd favorite after his eighth-place finish last week, of his drive on the 15th tee.
High of 84 with a 90 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms.