Jimmy Walker went 0-for-187 in his first seven years on the PGA Tour, but on Sunday at Waialae Country Club, he snagged his second win in six starts in the new 2013-14 wraparound season (making him 2-for-193). Amidst a packed leaderboard at the Sony Open, Walker finally started to separate himself from the field coming down the stretch, carding birdies in four of the last six holes to post a final-round seven-under 63, 17-under total.
Walker’s run started on no. 13 when he dropped a five-footer for birdie. On no. 14 he missed the green, but made a clutch up-and-down with a 12-footer for par.
“The par was big,” said Walker. “The par putts sometimes are bigger than the birdie putts. It keeps the momentum. It doesn’t it’s all about momentum, and if I’d have missed that, it would have been a little different, I think.
“But Jerry (Kelly’s) putt broke. I went and read his, and I had his breaking left, so when he hit it left and I was like, okay, I’ve got that putt I felt like I read it the correct way, and I had mine like right center, and it looked good and it felt good, and the grain looked just right, and put it right in the middle, so it was a good putt. It was a slow putt. You had to really hit it.”
Meanwhile, Harris English, who was playing in the final group behind Walker, rolled in an eight-footer for birdie on no. 14 to take the outright lead at 15-under, momentarily. Shortly thereafter, Walker birdied no. 15, making a 13-footer, to get to 15-under, while English missed his putt to save par from the bunker on the same hole.
Walker hit two more darts to seven feet and five feet on nos. 16 and 17, respectively, and made the birdie putts, to go to 17-under, and it was pretty much game over.
Chris Kirk, who was the other contender with a real shot, scrambled his way around the last few holes, birdieing the final two to finish at 16-under. He had a 30-foot chip for eagle to tie Walker on the par-5 18th, but couldn’t execute.
“(Harris) was just kind of telling me to show him something on the third (shot), and I really didn’t hit it,” said Kirk. “I was really just trying to stay aggressive and chip it in but hit it terrible. It was a terrible shot. I got a little excited, I guess.”
Interesting enough, Walker, Kirk and English, who were the only three truly in the mix coming down the stretch, have each already secured wins in the 2013-14 wraparound season.
Walker credited his maiden victory at the Frys.com Open in October for helping him control his emotions under the gun on Sunday.
“I think Fry’s taught me a lot,” said Walker in his post-round presser. “It was just kind of the it was just another step in the right direction. It was stay patient, stay focused, don’t get bent out of shape when you make a bogey or any of that kind of stuff. I learned a lot. I learned a lot that week.
“I played really well on the weekend, and I think today I’d been making a bunch of bogeys this week and I had plenty of firepower, and we were talking about it last night. I said, I haven’t had that round where I kind of felt like I got everything out of it this week, where you make the par putt, you make the birdie putt you’re supposed to make, that kind of thing. I said if I didn’t make any bogeys today I’d have a pretty good shot because I felt like I had a lot of firepower this week.”
Walker has some history with this golf tournament and they aren’t all good memories. In 2005 he was on the range when he felt like someone stuck a knife in his neck. It turned out to be a bulging disk. He went on to play nine events that year before he called in for a major medical exemption. Then, when he returned in 2006, he had a rough week and said, “I think I finished dead last or something.”
Well, he now has much fonder memories of the tournament. Not only does Walker move to the top in FedExCup points (who cares, it’s January!), he also leads the American standings in Ryder Cup points. See, the new wraparound schedule is indeed impacting things!
Random cool fact about Walker: He’s an astronomy buff.
“It was something that grabbed my attention,” said Walker, explaining his hobby. ”I love being outside, so going outside and setting up your equipment, I love kind of the tech side of setting all the equipment up because there’s a lot that goes into setup and getting making it so you can take pretty pictures. And then so that coupled with being outside and outdoors and seeing the sky from a really dark place is really cool. I don’t think a lot of people really ever get to do that, truly.
“And then it’s what you do with the pictures. That’s the artistic side because it’s really art after you take them and put them together, because you can give the same data set is what we call it, same data set to 50 different people and you’re going to get 50 different results. It’s all about how you make the picture look the way it does, and I’ve gotten really good at it.”
*Chris Kirk finished solo second, posting a final-round, four-under 66. Kirk, the 54-hole leader, was thrilled with his result and stayed away from watching leaderboards until later in the back nine.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he said. “I didn’t look at any leaderboards until about 16 I guess it was. No, 17. I didn’t know anything until 17. I was just trying to play as well as I could and was hitting the ball great today, but just could not buy a putt all day until the very end there. I looked up on 17 before I hit my birdie putt, and still kind of thought in the back of my mind if I could finish 2, 3 I’d have a chance.”
Kirk just wishes he could have rolled the flatstick better.
“This was a week where I did a lot of things really great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m very happy with the way I played, but I know if I would have had solid a putting solid week, it would have put me on top,” he said.
However, Kirk, who won the McGladrey Classic earlier in the season, is more excited to get home to his almost-two-year-old and three-week-old boys.
“I’m definitely missing them a lot,” he said. ”I can’t wait to get home and see them tomorrow.”
*Harris English looked like he had command of the lead after birdieing the 14th, but a bogey on the 15th cost him his chances and took away any momentum he was carrying.
“Just started hitting it better but started putting a little worse,” said English, who won twice in 2013, the FedEx St. Jude Classic, along with the OHL Mayakoba Classic. “Starting out the day I was hitting it all over the map and making some good saves. My short game kept me in it this week.
“But I misread a couple putts, also made some pretty poor putts, but that’s how it goes. I mean, I love being in this spot and I love being in contention and getting the juices flowing a little bit. I definitely learned a lot from this week.”
*47-year-old Jerry Kelly shot a final-round 65 to finish solo third. It was Kelly’s best performance on the PGA Tour since he was third at the 2011 Honda Classic and his best effort at the Sony Open in Hawaii since placing third in 2008.
“Starting with a bogey, I was happy the way I came back, showed some good mental fortitude in there,” said Kelly, who is a crowd favorite in Hawaii. “It’s something I’ve been lacking in recent years. I tried to get myself to relax a little bit, work my way through the rest of my career and enjoy it, and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
*PGA Tour rookie Will Wilcox struggled on Sunday — mostly due to nerves of playing in the final group for the first time in his career — but he managed to contain the damage and posted a one-over 71 and place T8.
As he walked out of the scoring trailer, he said to me, “Wow, that’s the biggest check I’ve gotten.”
Wilcox won the 2013 South Georgia Classic Presented by First State Bank and Trust Company on the Web.com Tour and earned a check worth $117,000. He knew straight away that his top ten check on the PGA Tour was worth more. Even if only by a few thousand — turned out to be $119,000 because 12 players finished for a share of eighth.
What’s he going to do with the extra cash flow?
“Pay my taxes,” he said. “I’ll hang onto it, I guess. I don’t have anything in mind.”
Wilcox’s top ten doesn’t get him into the Humana Challenge next week because it’s treated like an invitational now. However, it does secure him a spot at the Farmers Insurance Open the following week. Problem is, he was already in the field, so it is kind of a wash.
“Still, it’s a dream come true just to play out here,” said Wilcox.
He was admittedly (and understandably) nervous in the final round.
“Oh my god, it was ridiculous,” said Wilcox, referring to playing in the last group on Sunday. “It was pretty intense…yeah, I was hitting it like crap…
“I hung on and made some good pars on the back nine. I would’ve taken a 20th place finish today. I know that’s negative, but still, the money is so much more than the Web.com Tour. This is just awesome.”
*Among the 12 players who finished tied for eighth included Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Jerry Kelly (2002)
Mark Wilson (2011)
Paul Goydos (2007)
*A total of 11 of the 13 rookies on this season’s PGA TOUR were in the starting field this week: