2016 PGA Championship: Walker Overcomes Day’s Heroics
We conclude Crave’s coverage of Mercedes-Benz and this weekend’s 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
Jimmy Walker overcame days of bad weather, a marathon double round on Sunday and a nearly superhuman push by defending champion Jason Day to win the 2016 PGA Championship. Along the way, he became only the eighth man in history to win the golf season’s final major tournament fro pillar to post.
Brutal weather conditions on Saturday forced Walker and every golfer on the leader board to play back to back rounds on Sunday to wrap the tournament on time. To give the uninitiated an idea of the athleticism involved in such a challenge, during a round of golf on a course set up for a major (like the PGA Championship) a player will walk between nine to 10 miles. So, Walker and his rivals logged two rounds and about 20 miles on foot Sunday in heavy New Jersey humidity — while often stopping to hit a small white ball with incredible power and accuracy.
Walker, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and other contenders didn’t play at all on Saturday as thunderstorms and heavy rains flooded the course. Extensive overnight work by the grounds crew at Baltusrol and a series of unusually early Sunday tee times allowed players to make up for lost time — wrapping both the third round and final 18 before sunset on Sunday. Of course, the weather had to cooperate. Despite heavy skies and day-long cloud cover, rains that might’ve otherwise stopped play held off until after 10 p.m. Sunday evening.
With the rain at bay, Walker continued the remarkably settled, steady play he began on Thursday. While Day and other pursued and closed the gap with Walker by stringing together birdies, Walker played the first nine of his final round at even par — waiting for the back nine to pad his lead with three birdies and avoiding big mistakes. He simply didn’t beat himself.
However, defending 2015 PGA Championship winner Day saved his most spectacular effort until the final hole — pulling off one of the more incredible shots you’ll see in major tournament golf in a desperate quest to draw even with Walker. With the leader two strokes ahead, Day needed an eagle on the par five 18th to tie the for the top spot.
After his drive, he stood 254 yards away from the pin — looking 260 yards uphill to the bunker-lined green. Selecting a two iron, Day absolutely hammered a shot to within inside 15 feet of the stick. He confidently putted home for that eagle. Consider that. It’s an up and down from 254 yards when only an eagle could keep Day in contention for a major championship. Fans could live additional lifetimes and never see a better pressure shot than Day’s approach on 18.
However, Walker simultaneously birdied 17, remaining a stroke better than Day following his eagle. While Walker sliced his own approach shot slightly, he managed to settle the 18th for a par, locking up the championship.
History will have to decide if, say, 10 years from now golf fans remember Walker’s win for his fist major title or Day’s legend-worthy approach shot that wasn’t quite enough to defend his PGA Championship.