Walker shoots siz­zling 65, is early leader in New Jer­sey

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TOD LEONARD

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Jimmy Walker and most of the play­ers on the leader­board af­ter the first round of the 98th PGA Cham­pi­onship have one ap­par­ently good thing in com­mon: They haven’t won a ma­jor.

Of late, get­ting that first one hasn’t been the enor­mous hur­dle it once seemed.

For the first time since 2007, the first three ma­jors of the golf sea­son have been cap­tured by those who earned their first. That’s been the case in five of the last seven ma­jors.

Walker shot 5-un­der-par 65 at Bal­tus­rol Golf Club on Thurs­day to take sole pos­ses­sion of the lead, and he cer­tainly fits the pro­file of the top-qual­ity player with all of the abil­ity to have a break­through — like the other three ma­jor cham­pi­ons for 2016: Danny Wil­lett, Dustin John­son and Hen­rik Sten­son.

The 37-year-old from Ok­la­homa owns five PGA Tour vic­to­ries and has played for the U.S. in the Ry­der Cup and Pres­i­dents Cup. Walker is among the long­est hit­ters and bet­ter put­ters on tour.

“Three first-time ma­jor win­ners this year; I don’t think it’s a co­in­ci­dence or any­thing,” Walker said. “They are all good play­ers and it was just a mat­ter of time.”

He smiled and added, “Just keep it rolling.”

Among the 18 play­ers clos­est to Walker, only three — Martin Kaymer (66), Sten­son (67), Louis Oosthuizen (68) and Ja­son Day (68) — have won a ma­jor.

For­mer Ry­der Cup player Ross Fisher, of Eng­land, birdied the back-to-back clos­ing par-5s to shoot 66, the same score recorded by 23-year-old tour rookie Emil­iano Grillo of Ar­gentina.

Most of the best scores were recorded in the heat of the morn­ing be­fore the greens baked out and a breeze picked up.

It will be much softer for the sec­ond round, dur­ing which heavy rain is ex­pected to fall.

Be­yond the top-ranked Day, not many of the world’s high­est-ranked golfers were able to solve Bal­tus­rol. To the good was No. 5 Sten­son, whose 67 came on the heels of his spec­tac­u­lar Bri­tish Open win, and No. 7 Rickie Fowler, res­ur­rect­ing his mori­bund game — three missed cuts in the last six starts — with a 68.

Medi­ocre were Jor­dan Spi­eth, who didn’t make a birdie un­til the 16th hole in scor­ing 70, and Phil Mick­el­son, who over­came a ter­ri­ble start to shoot 71.

Then there was aw­ful. U.S. Open cham­pion Dustin John­son had a chance to get to No. 1 this week, but there’s lit­tle hope now. He suf­fered two dou­ble-bo­geys and bo­geyed the easy 18th to score a shock­ing 77. Rory McIl­roy’s frus­tra­tions con­tin­ued. He couldn’t make a birdie in shoot­ing 74.

Ahead of them all was Walker, who only be­gan reg­u­larly qual­i­fy­ing for ma­jors in 2014. That year he posted top-10s in the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA, but he’s never con­tended deep into a Sun­day and is lead­ing af­ter a ma­jor round for the first time.

At Royal Troon two weeks ago, Walker shared what was dubbed the “frat house” with Fowler, Spi­eth, Justin Thomas, Ja­son Dufner and Zach John­son. It was fun, but ul­ti­mately a drag when Walker was the only one who didn’t get to play on the week­end.

He chose not to prac­tice in the cold and wind and watched too much TV.

“When the first guy comes back (to the house) and he’s ready for a cock­tail, you have one,” Walker said with a chuckle.

The sea­son has been a strug­gle for Walker. He tied for fourth in the Farm­ers In­sur­ance Open at Tor­rey Pines, but has only one top-10 since.

“It would be nice to flip it around,” Walker said. “I’ve re­ally been work­ing hard, and that hasn’t been the case. I have been crank­ing away and bust­ing it.”

TONY GUTIERREZ, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jimmy Walker watches his chip shot to the third green dur­ing the first round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bal­tus­rol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on Thurs­day. Walker shot 5-un­der par to take sole pos­ses­sion of the lead.

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