By Sam McPherson
Many golf fans were probably surprised to see Jimmy Walker leading after the first three rounds of the 98th PGA Championship. After Sunday’s thrilling finale at the famed Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, no one will question the six-time PGA Tour winner — and first-time major winner — the next time he tops the leaderboard.
The 37-year-old Walker shot a closing-round 67, which included three birdies on the back nine, to finish the tournament at 14-under par, just one stroke ahead of the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer and the defending event champion, Jason Day. Due to weather complications, both Walker and Day played the third and fourth rounds on Sunday, giving fans a taste of old-school golf where endurance and fatigue always played a factor.
However, for these two golfers on Sunday, that just wasn’t the case. Walker shot 68 in the third round Sunday morning, while Day carded third and fourth-round scores of 67. Henrik Stenson, the Open Championship winner from just two weeks ago at Royal Troon, was right in the thick of things, too, after 67s in the first, second and third rounds. And then he double-bogeyed the 15th hole in the fourth round.
Daniel Summerhays came in at 10-under to claim third place after shooting a final-round 66. Branden Grace, Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama shared fourth place at 9-under par. Meanwhile, Stenson faded into a three-way tie for seventh at 8-under with 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Robert Streb.
Walker’s ability to hold off a surging Day down the stretch was the real story. Day’s eagle on the 72nd hole cut Walker’s lead to one stroke as he stepped to the tee box on that final hole. But the eventual PGA champ calmly sunk a short par putt to claim the title and the $1.8 million winner’s purse.
With so many top golfers making the trip to Baltusrol, the the final major’s final day featured some notable absences. Both No. 2-ranked Dustin Johnson and No. 4-ranked Rory McIlroy failed to make the cut. No. 3-ranked Jordan Spieth didn’t finish any round in the leaderboard’s top 10 on his way to a 6-under par 13th-place finish.
Next On The Tee: Travelers Championship
As most of the world’s leading golfers prepare for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 11-14, many PGA Tour veterans will head to Cromwell, Connecticut for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Bubba Watson is the event’s defending champion. The $6.6 million purse should be particularly enticing given the relative lack of depth in the field. This season’s parade of unheralded winners could continue.
Watson, the world’s No. 6-ranked player who also won the Travelers in 2010, will be in the field this week. The tournament’s only top-10 player will face a few other former champions, including Kevin Streelman (2014), Ken Duke (2013), Marc Leishman (2012) and Freddie Jacobson (2011). Grace will put his No. 12 ranking on the line at TPC River Highlands as well.
Robert J. Ross originally designed the golf course in 1928, and Pete Dye gave it a huge facelift in 1982. Interestingly, the course record (60) was set by a 19-year-old amateur golfer during the 2010 Travelers Championship, and that broke the record of 61 previously held by multiple PGA Tour pros, including Phil Mickelson. This event always holds the potential for multiple golfers to go low.
The TPC River Highlands course plays 6,841 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Branden Grace, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson
Players to Watch: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Daniel Summerhays
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.