Jimmy Walker wasn’t going to let a second tournament slip through his fingers in the same week. After losing in a playoff to Patrick Reed at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday, Walker got redemption on Sunday, firing an impressive bogey-free, seven-under 63.
Not only did he successfully defend his title at the Sony Open, he ran away from the field, posting a 23-under total at Waialae Country Club en route to a nine-shot victory over Scott Piercy. The record for the largest margin of victory at this event was previously seven strokes, which was held by Paul Azinger in 2000.
For the second time in less than a week, Walker played his way into the last group after carding an eight-under 62 in the third round. On Monday at Kapalua, he entered the final round with a share of the lead with Hideki Matsuyama, and on Sunday he headed into the fourth round with a two-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, who ended with a lackluster one-over 71 to tie for third.
“Just after Monday I was kind of wondering how things were going to go, but got over it,” said Walker in his post-round presser. “I felt good. Just game in and just continued to do what I did last week, which was hit it really good, and I putted even better this week, I think, than I did last week. I probably hit it closer last week a little bit, but it’s been a great, crazy week. It just doesn’t happen very often. Today, I didn’t have any bogeys. It was just huge. Didn’t want to make one. I grinded all of them out.”
Indeed. This time, Walker wasn’t going to let up — not that he did on Monday, but earlier in the week, he admitted to playing a little bit of defense. He also was just trying to fend off Matsuyama and wasn’t exactly aware of what Reed was doing in the group in front of him at Kapalua. Despite his comfortable lead for most of the day, he certainly paid closer attention to the scoreboards on Sunday.
“I didn’t relax (today),” said Walker, who now has four PGA Tour victories in his last 32 starts. “Like I said, I didn’t know that (Reed) had gone birdie-eagle. I didn’t know. Which is no big deal, but I still had a chance to win on the last hole. All I had to do was make four.
“But today, I was watching the leaderboard. I was trying to see what was going on. I knew I was playing with the two guys that were right behind me. I know there were some guys right off the bat.”
His swing coach Butch Harmon exchanged texts with Walker’s wife Erin during the round Sunday and said that Jimmy learned a lot from the experience. Indeed, he did. Harmon also texted Walker this morning.
“(Butch) said, ‘Keep the pedal down, keep the pedal down today. You’re playing good, so just keep the pedal down.’
That was kind of the mindset — was be smart, be aggressive, make good shots and get some putts to go in. And that’s kind of what ended up happening.”
Walker started relatively slow, making seven straight pars to kick off the final round, but after he rolled in a key comeback par putt from eight feet on no. 7, he found some momentum and started to really separate himself from the field, rolling in three straight birdies.
“I kind of ran one by on 7 and made that coming back, which was pretty big,” he said. “I think that was a big putt, and then capitalized that with three birdies in a row. So it was a nice momentum keeper, changer, whatever you want to call it.”
Like Walker said, he didn’t let down at any point on Sunday. Even when he had a six-shot lead on no. 14 and it looked like a done deal, he grinded over a six-foot par putt — and made it.
“I wanted to finish the day, finish the round,” he said. “I didn’t want to give anything back. I didn’t want to make a bogey. (My caddie) Andy (Sanders) kept telling me, ‘Finish it out, let’s make the putt.’ I chipped it by and he said, ‘Make it.’ And I wanted to, and hit a good putt and it went in the middle.”
Same deal on no. 17 — at which point Walker held an eight-shot lead. He pulled his tee shot into the left greenside bunker and hit it out to 10 feet.
“The wind just completely quite on us right there on the tee box, and right as I was hitting it, it just shut off, and it was a real hard nine-(iron) and it drew,” he said. “I thought the wind would just keep it going straight and I hit it in the bunker and it had plenty of carry on it, but then I blasted it out and hit it by the hole.
“(Andy) said the same thing again when he handed me the ball. He said, ‘Don’t let up.’ And I made that one.”
Earlier on Sunday on the other side of the world at the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour, Martin Kaymer started the final round with a six-shot lead and extended it to 10 strokes through five holes. Then, the unthinkable happened and Kaymer blew it and ended up finishing third. Walker was aware of it, but didn’t let it sneak into his mind.
“I saw that this morning,” he said. “I went downstairs and got coffee and the telecast had just finished up — I think it had already finished. It’s a bummer. I walked back upstairs and I told Erin, I said, ‘Winning is hard.’ It just really is. You just never know.”
Well, Jimmy sure made it look easy on Sunday.