The fourth and final major of the season arrived with almost unseemly haste in the wake of the third, beginning only a fortnight after the start of the Open at Royal Troon as the golf calendar made way for the inclusion of golf in the Olympic Games. (What was that, Rory?) And, despite recurring storms, the USPGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey managed to finish a fortnight to the day after Henrik Stenson’s extraordinary duel with Phil Mickelson.
Obviously, a golf tournament held in a town called Springfield should have been won by a guy called Simpson but Webb could do no better than a tie for 13th and Jimmy Walker clearly hadn’t read the script. He prevailed by a shot from the defending champion and world No. 1, Jason Day. A closing 67, three under par, gave Walker a score of 266. There have only been two lower scores ever in a major, one of those at Troon last month.
Walker’s first win on the PGA Tour only came three years ago. This was the sixth. It seemed this one might well be his when, after nine straight pars, he found a greenside bunker on the 10th and then holed the bunker shot for a birdie three. Further birdies on the 11th and 17th gave him a seemingly handsome cushion until Day hit a wonderful second shot into the par-five 18th that set up an eagle three. Needing to par the same hole for victory, Walker made a struggle of it but he got the job done.
It was rather fitting that he and Day finished the tournament as neighbours on the leaderboard. Away from the course, they travel to tournaments with their families in their respective motorhomes. “We have been like bus partners for a while now,” said Day. His 37-year-old travel buddy has now joined him with a first major championship.
Walker had led from the off, by a shot on day one from England’s Ross Fisher and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo. Come Friday evening he was still leading while Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson (two of the top-4 players in the world) were on their way home, Johnson completely out of sorts with his game and missing his first cut in 25 tournaments, McIlroy ruing his “pathetic” putting. With no Olympic Games for them, that meant pretty much the whole of August off.
Day, meanwhile, on the back of an opening 68, had a stretch of seven birdies in eight holes to leave him tied for third with Grillo, two shots adrift of the co-leaders, Walker and Robert Streb. Walker had been having a mediocre season to this point and Streb a worse one (he’d missed the cut in the previous three majors and had no top-10s all year). Streb had a second-round 63, thus making him – after the Mickelson/Stenson extravaganzas at Troon – the 30th shooter of that score in a major.
Saturday hardly happened as far as the leaders were concerned. The threatened storms duly hove into view and play was suspended some 40 minutes before Walker and Streb were due off. The third round is routinely described as “moving day”. The chief movement at Baltusrol involved spectators to the exits (or possibly the beer tents). Sunday thereby became the new Saturday as well as the final day and weather-wise it was a shocker, too, although at least the third round got completed while golfers embarking on their fourth rounds were permitted preferred lies. By noon of the soggy saga, Walker had the 54-hole lead on 11 under par, one ahead of Day and two clear of Brooks Koepka and Stenson, whose third straight 67 meant he’d now shot in the 60s for seven consecutive rounds in a major.
He was in the mix until a double-bogey at the 15th late on Sunday afternoon put an end to his challenge and all that sub-70 stuff. And despite Day’s last glorious shot, Walker’s career in the major championships was up and running.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen