Walker shoots sizzling 65, is early leader in New Jersey
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.”
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.