By Larry Fine
SPRINGFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) – American Jimmy Walker broke through for his first major title with a one-shot win over Jason Day in the PGA Championship after playing 36 grueling holes at water-logged Baltusrol on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Texan calmly canned a three-foot par putt to cap a wire-to-wire win with steely precision, shooting a final-round 67 to finish on 14-under-par 266.
His victory was far from routine, however.
“It was a battle the whole day,” said Walker, a five-time winner on the U.S. tour.
Walker had to return to the classic championship course early Sunday morning to play his entire third round after heavy rain and thunderstorms suspended play on Saturday, and shot two-under 68 for a one-shot lead going into the final 18.
He then had to fend off major winners Day and Henrik Stenson breathing down his neck in the final round, but came out shining with a one-two punch after the turn to set up victory.
Holding a one-shot lead over both world number one and defending champion Day and British Open winner Stenson, Walker holed out from a greenside bunker to birdie the 10th.
Walker then rolled in a left-to-right curling, 30-foot uphill putt for birdie at the 11th to extend his lead to two over Australia’s Day. He widened the lead to three with a birdie putt that curled around the lip and in at the 17th.
But Day put on the pressure, reaching the par-five 18th in two. He rolled in the eagle putt for 67 to close the gap to one, as Walker, playing in the final pairing, looked on from back in the fairway.
“I made the birdie (on 17) but sometimes things just don’t come easy and golf is not an easy game, and Jason is a true champion,” Walker said.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less, an eagle at the last. That’s unreal. So it really put it on me to make a par (on 18).”
The American sprayed his approach to 18 into thick rough right of the green before punching his third safely onto the green but 35 feet beyond the hole.
He rolled his first putt three feet past, leaving himself with a testing par putt, which he sank under enormous pressure in the fading light for his first major triumph.
“Sometimes pars are hard but we got it,” Walker said before lifting the gleaming silver Wanamaker Trophy.
Said Day: “It was nice to get the eagle, just to try and make Jimmy think about it, but obviously Jimmy just played too good all day. The birdie on 17 was key for him.
“Yeah, a little disappointed,” the Australian added about his first defense of a major. “(But) I’m very, very happy with how I played all week.”
Walker’s victory completes a year of first-time major champions, joining Masters champion Danny Willett of England, American U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson and British Open champion Henrik Stenson.
In third place on 10-under was American Daniel Summerhays, who fired a closing 66, with South African Branden Grace (67), Hideki Matsuyama (68) of Japan and American Brooks Koepka (70) another shot back.
With the threat of more bad weather, officials set up the marathon Sunday to try to finish the tournament, sending players back out for the final round without re-pairing the groups to save time.
The gamble paid off as the storms held up and the championship was settled.
They also ruled that final-round play would be conducted with preferred lies given the saturated state of the Baltusrol course and more rain expected.
It marked the first time players in a major championship were allowed to lift, clean and place balls in the fairway.
(Editing by Andrew Both/Peter Rutherford)