After several top-10 finishes at various majors in recent years, Jimmy Walker won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol this past weekend. Walker led the whole way, shooting 65-66-68-67 to become the first wire-to-wire PGA winner since Phil Mickelson accomplished the same feat at Baltusrol in 2005.
Walker has always been one of the top golfers in the world, but it’s no secret what finally clicked for him this past weekend: putting.
“This is a guy that struggled with putting all season long, but he just got the ball in the hole,” Fox Sports golf writer Shane Bacon said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “He seemed comfortable on the greens. I think the delay actually helped him a little bit. He just leaned on a putter that’s been balky all season long. When you look at Jimmy Walker’s career, especially the last two or three years, he’s won a lot. This is not a guy who’s uncomfortable in that position and that situation. But this year, it’s probably been one of his worst years, really, in the last four or five years. So I think it was just him feeling comfortable on the greens and getting the benefit of kind of a weird draw and a weird weather week.”
Walker, who held off Jason Day and Henrik Stenson, among others, on Sunday, took a long and winding path to his first major championship. He is the fifth consecutive first-time major winner.
“I’ve said this for a while now: This is going to be the generation of one-time major winners,” Bacon said. “If you look at this season, everybody this season is a first time major winner. You think about Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley and names like that. This is going to be the generation of these type of players because the talent pool is so deep right now in golf. We wanted to talk ourselves into a quote-unquote Big Three with Rory and Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who, of course, almost won. But this season really reminded us that there’s a ton of golfers out there that are not only capable of contending but are capable of winning these big tournaments. It was a friendly reminder that there’s 50, 60, 70 guys out there that can win a major in any given week, and Jimmy Walker showed us that this week at the PGA.”
While Day had a solid runner-up showing, the other two-thirds of golf’s holy triumvirate didn’t fare as well. McIlroy missed the cut, while Spieth finished outside the top 10.
McIlroy shot a 74 and 69 last Thursday and Friday, respectively. He performed well from tee to green but was abysmal from green to hole.
“His putting was just horrific this week,” Bacon said. “Before this week, in the 15 events he’s played in 2016, he’s finished in the top six nine times. So he’s had a good year in the sense of contending and getting into events. It’s just that he hasn’t been winning like we’ve seen in past seasons. It’s going to take some time for him to maybe get away from the game a little bit, go work on some putting, maybe try some different putters. But you’re going to go through these kind of ebbs and flows, and when your down time still includes nine of 15 top-six (finishes), that’s why we think Rory is so good – because he’s still able to get himself in position even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. It was kind of an off week and really kind of an off year in the majors for Rory. I don’t see any (long-term issues). Again, he didn’t have his best stuff those four weeks that really matter for the sports public.”
Spieth, meanwhile, seemed poised for a late-weekend surge, but it never happened. Still, it’s hard to scoff at a just-turned-23-year-old for finishing inside the top 15 at a major.
“You do it to yourself in a sense,” Bacon said of the high expectations for Spieth. “He wins two majors last year and we’re all sitting there going, ‘Now we’ve got this wonder child over here in America that can contend with Rory and Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.’ He should have won the Masters. I think we can all agree on that. A couple of bad swings there and he still almost did it, and he has two other wins this year. So to me, I always look at the down years for the players and see what they were still able to accomplish. Jordan Spieth, not his best season. I think he would agree on that. Yet he’s still been able to capture two titles and should’ve won a second Masters. I thought he was going to make a run this weekend, too. But the putter has just not been the same as it was last year, and it’s hard to replicate stuff like that. I mean, you finish in the top four in all four majors. It’s hard to come back and do that again (the next) season.”
Bacon thinks that the recent string of first-time major winners is good for golf.
“These are guys that can can win another major, that could win two or there majors in their career depending on how they play,” he said. “I kind of like it. With that being said, I would love to see next year a couple of those big names win another one, just to remind us that they’re still there as well. If Rory goes 2017 without a major, now we’re talking over three years without him winning one, and I think the questions will get louder and louder for somebody like that.”