Jimmy Walker's journey from mini-tour anonymity to the top of golf is complete -- he's now a major champion.
With two of the world's top five players in Jason Day and Henrik Stenson giving chase, Walker was able to hold off the defending PGA champion and the winner of the season's previous major championship in what was a marathon day at Baltusrol. The 37-year-old Texan led the tournament wire-to-wire from Thursday to Sunday, never looking anything other than perfectly in control over the 36 holes the leaders played on Sunday. Walker reeled off 11 straight pars before opening up his birdie account on the round with this blast out of the bunker on the 12th.
Jimmy Walker gets his first birdie of the round. And boy is it a good one.... https://t.co/6rFQne1bzl— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) July 31, 2016
Another birdie on the 13th put him two clear of Jason Day, leaving them in a de facto one-on-one duel down the stretch after a Stenson double bogey at nearly the same time two holes ahead on the 15th. After a few pars each, Day came up with magical iron into the par-5 18th en route to an eagle that would've tied things up at -13 -- and would've went down in history as one of the tournament's greatest moments had World Number One retained his trophy.
554 yards— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 31, 2016
• 2 iron
• 2 iron
• 1 putthttps://t.co/j7KcHukF01
But right at the same time as Day's approach to 18, Walker holed this birdie putt on 17 to give himself an extra one-shot cushion.
That left the Texan needing only par to win the championship -- and he needed every shot necessary after watching Day make magic ahead of him on the 72nd green. He got up on the green from right of the par-5 18th and two-putted to win his first major title.
Casual fans might not know Walker's name well, but he's hardly an "unknown" or an "unheralded" player on Tour -- he's very well-deserving of a major championship title. If anything, he's just been a quiet, workmanlike star on the PGA Tour over the past few seasons. After years toiling back and forth between the Nationwide Tour, he finally solidified himself as a bona fide PGA Tour pro with a streak of 25 consecutive cuts made from the 2012 to the 2013 season. That led to his first career win on tour at the Frys.com Open in 2013, and then he followed that up with multiple-win seasons in 2014 and 2015 -- even spending time on top of the FedEx Cup standings for a bit. For his troubles, he picked up spots on the 2014 Ryder Cup and 2015 Presidents Cup rosters and reached the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Ian Baker-Finch may have summed up Jimmy Walker best toward the end of CBS' broadcast, stating that "when he plays well, he's one of the best in the world."
But, it might have come at an unexpected time. Walker had struggled through the 2016 season a bit, especially in big events -- registering missed cuts at The Players, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. He'd fallen from a high of 10th in the world golf rankings to 48th entering the week at Baltusrol. But golf is weird as hell, and guys have great weeks when you wouldn't expect and bad ones when they're picked to win. Never, ever bet on golf.
No matter the timing, Walker's deserving of a major title. And for the first time since 2011, golf will have four first-time major champions in a season -- and each of those players will have spent time in the Top 10 in the world in the last 16 months. That, more than any Big 3, or Big 4, or Big 27, or Big Whatever, is most indicative of the post-Tiger era -- a growing roster of stars that might actually make the on-course product more compelling than it was even at Big Cat's peak.