Jimmy Walker had never before played in the crucible of a major championship’s back nine on a Sunday.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t know how to handle it when the time came.
Walker, making a clutch 3-foot putt on the 18th hole – countering an eagle by close-friend Jason Day minutes earlier – claimed the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club.
Walker will defend his title in 2017, when the PGA Championship will be played at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club. It was the first major title of the career for Walker, a 37-year-old from Oklahoma City who had five previous PGA Tour victories on his resume.
“What an incredible finish,” said Walker. “It just puts a smile on my face.”
Walker also became the fourth first-time winner of a major championship this season, joining Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (British Open).
Walker did it on a soggy day during which he and others had to play 36 holes after Saturday’s play was suspended by rain.
Despite that, he shot a bogey-free 67, with all three of his birdies coming when he needed them most – on the back nine.
Walker’s consistency didn’t allow Day to apply any real pressure, at least through the first 17 holes.
After starting his final round with nine consecutive pars, Walker birdied the 10th and 11th holes, giving him what appeared to be the separation he needed from Day.
The birdie on No. 10 really provided Walker with the boost he needed, when his blast from a bunker next to green rolled into the cup.
And after Walker drained an 8-foot putt for a birdie on the par-5 17th, the lead was a seemingly safe three shots.
With the championship in sight, Walker played a conservative iron off the tee on the par-5 18th.
But Day, finishing up ahead, finally came alive by knocking in a 14-foot putt for an eagle and cutting Walker’s lead to a single stroke.
“Let’s try and finish off with a bang,” Day said he thought to himself. “Give (Walker) something to think about.”
Walker heard the roars for Day’s eagle. But in a moment that again begged for caution, Walker made perhaps his only questionable decision of the week: Instead of laying up with an iron, he instead played a 5-wood and pushed his second shot into the rough to the right of the green.
“I was thinking positive,” Walker said of his approach shot. “I had a good lie on the fairway, had a good number. Every time you hit this shot, it doesn’t matter what’s going on, it’s going right up on the green. You make par 19 out of 20 times.”
That didn’t happen this time. But Walker was able to get up and down from there, finishing it off with his nervy 3-footer for par and the victory.
The final round had a different feel to it from a normal major-championship Sunday. Players weren’t re-paired after Saturday rains suspended play early. That meant the leaders were scattered around the course during the final round, which managed to get off to what was close to a normal start, despite the damp conditions that persisted throughout the day.
Because of the wet ground, players were also allowed to lift, clean and place their balls for what is believed to be the first time in major-championship history. That meant that a ball that landed in a closely mown area through the green could be lifted and cleaned, then placed back on the ground within a club length (as long as it wasn’t nearer to the hole).
Day’s 67 left him that single shot behind Walker. Daniel Summerhays had a 4-under 66 and finished in third. Three players – Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka – were tied for third at 9 under.
Jimmy Walker became the fourth first-time winner of a major this year: