By Larry Fine
SPRINGFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) – Texan Jimmy Walker has been working mighty hard to turn his game around and thinks it is only fair to see some results.
At venerable Baltusrol Golf Club on Thursday, Walker enjoyed the fruits of his labors and the sight of birdie putts falling into the cup as he claimed the first-round lead at the PGA Championship.
Walker, who won five tournaments over the previous two seasons but has not cracked into the top 10 of an event since early March, collected six birdies and one bogey in registering a five-under 65 for a one-shot lead in the year’s final major.
“Sometimes it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It’s tough,” the 37-year-old Walker told reporters about his frustrations.
“You feel like you’re killing yourself and you’re giving it all you’ve got and you’re just not seeing it. Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off. But over time, it will I think.”
Walker, who has missed four cuts in his last eight events including the U.S. Open and British Open, may have found his form in the nick of time to put a different spin on his season.
The 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup player made four birdies over his first nine after starting at 10 and gained another shot with a birdie at his 16th hole for his 65.
“Start off playing just solid, lots of fairways, lots of greens, got some putts to go in, hit some quality second shots into greens. (I) had not been making a lot of putts this year,” said Walker, who needed only 25 putts in his round.
Walker needed only 25 putts, taking advantage of benign morning conditions and making more than 85 feet worth of putts.
He entered the PGA in 50th place on the FedExCup points list and 29th in Ryder Cup points. He has a sense of urgency this week with double points at stake and a chance to become the year’s fourth first-time major winner.
“Last two or three years haven’t been accustomed to sitting where I am on the FedExCup list,” said Walker, who won three times in 2014 and twice more last year. “So yeah, I would like to keep jumping up. I like jumping inside the top 30 and going to the Tour Championship.
“I definitely wanted to play Ryder Cup this year.”
Eight American players automatically qualify off the points list with U.S. captain Davis Love completing the 12-man team that will play Europe at Hazeltine in Minnesota from Sept. 30-Oct. 2 with four captain’s picks.
“Solid play at the end of the year could get you the nod. Those are definite goals.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)