HONOLULU (AP) — Some of the best golf at the Ryder Cup occurred in a match hardly anyone noticed.
That should be expected. Jimmy Walker was involved.
He is becoming more difficult to ignore with each victory. Walker’s nine-shot win at the Sony Open — the largest margin on the PGA Tour in nearly six years — was his fourth victory in the last 15 months, the most of any American in that stretch. His world ranking is No. 13, moving him closer to his goal of playing in the Olympics.
More work remains, starting with the majors, and Walker knows this.
Last year was his first time playing all four majors, and while he didn’t seriously contend in any, he still had top 10s in the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. That’s not a bad start, and Walker has shown to be a quick study and a hard worker.
Of all the new experiences from 2014, though, what stood out was Sunday at Gleneagles.
The Ryder Cup long had been decided when Walker won his singles match against Lee Westwood by making eight birdies in 16 holes. With key wins early from Europe’s two major champions, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, there was no reason for television to pay much attention to a match that affected only the final score.
But it was a big deal for Walker.
He believes his performance on such a big stage, and what he learned from that match, will take him to a higher level. The Sony Open is miles away from the Ryder Cup in so many aspects, though it caused him to reminisce the way he never let up until it was over.
“That was huge, that Sunday match against Lee,” Walker said. “That was another day where I didn’t want to let him have anything. After the Ryder Cup I said, ‘I need to figure how to get in that mode, where every shot means so much.’ That’s how it felt. I was so engaged in every shot I hit. I’ve got to try to figure out how to do that week in and week out. And that’s how I felt today.”
His second straight victory in the Sony Open was important for a couple of reasons. It was his third straight year with a PGA Tour victory, and it was right after he lost a tournament he felt he should have won.
Walker doesn’t feel as if he let up at Kapalua, though he was surprised by the quick turnaround. He missed one shot that led to bogey and missed two birdie putts inside 10 feet as Patrick Reed played the last four holes in 4-under par, including an 80-yard shot he holed for eagle. Reed won with a birdie in the playoff.
Given another chance six days later, Walker was ruthless.
He showed the capacity to turn a two-shot lead into four, and a four-shot lead into eight. That’s the kind of golf he saw from Jordan Spieth last month at the Hero World Challenge when Spieth won by 10 shots; from Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open last summer when he won by eight at Pinehurst; from Rory McIlroy in the first two majors he won (each by eight shots); and from Tiger Woods more times than he can remember.
There was one moment when Walker even looked like Woods.
One of the more fascinating moments of Woods’ 15-shot win at the 2000 U.S. Open came late in the final round at Pebble Beach when he hit a flyer over the 16th green and chipped to 15 feet. The tournament was over, and had been for hours, but Woods was stalking and crouching and concentrating over that putt as if he were tied for the lead. Woods buried the putt and showed as much emotion as he had all day.
Later, he revealed that his sole purpose was to not make bogey in the final round. He played the last 26 holes of a U.S. Open without one.
From behind the 14th green at Waialae on Sunday, and ahead by six shots, Walker’s chip ran about 6 feet by the hole. With only his coin on the green, he stood over the putt and took a few one-handed swings. Finally, he replaced the ball — but still not the coin — and stood over it again, his eyes going from the ball to the hole. He did that one more time before removing the coin, and then he backed off again before making the putt.
“I didn’t want to give anything back,” he said. “I didn’t want to make bogey.”
And he didn’t. Walker went on to make 15-foot birdie putts on the next two holes, a 10-foot par putt on the 17th and closed with a 5-foot birdie and a 7-under 63.
“I remember when Jordan did that and I thought, ‘That guy is playing some golf. He’s making more putts than anyone.’ You see that and think, ‘Wow, I want to do that,'” Walker said. “I’ve watched Tiger do that — he did it a bunch. I’m watching Rory do it now. It’s cool.”
And it’s a step in the right direction.
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