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Jimmy Walker repels brilliant Jason Day challenge

Jimmy Walker and his PGA Championship trophy (Photo: Courtesy of PGA of America )
Let there be no mistake, 37 year old Jimmy Walker is the deserving champion of the 2016 PGA Championship but that he was pushed to the absolute limit by a relentless Jason Day will make the victory even more special to the first time major championship winner.

Walker responded to a last hole eagle by Day, who had produced one of the great shots in major championship history when he hit a 2 iron 257 yards to 14 feet at the last and then converted to get within one of Walker who was then forced to par the last to win.

That play was even completed on schedule today was another example of things being pushed to the limit on day four as, after the last few groups were faced with a full 36 holes, there was no time left for a playoff should Walker have been unable to close the deal. Instead the three hole aggregate playoff would have carried over till Monday.

Play resumed in round three at 7.00am today and when that round was completed Walker still led, as he had through 18 and 36 holes (shared with Streb), ahead by one over Day with Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson another shot back.

Walker struggled early in round three but recovered late, in fact he played his last 28 holes without a bogey while adding seven birdies, and when he signed for a 3rd round of 68 around 12.30 he had the lead and the opportunity to rest up for a couple of hours.

Walker took full advantage of the break. “It was nice to have the long break in between the rounds,” said the champion. “I got to go back to my bus. I took a hot shower. I got rubbed down by Mark, my physio after the round. Went back. Took a shower, relaxed, laid on the couch. Kind of fell asleep for a little bit. It was great. I think it's exactly what I needed to do. So it definitely was a long day, it really was. I think anybody will say that.

“But like I said, having the break in between was nice. Usually on the PGA TOUR, we kind of -- it's like a grab a sandwich and go kind of deal. It's nice to get back into my bus, relax. I got rubbed down after the round, felt good. Took a little nap. It was only like ten minutes, but it sure felt good. That was new for me. I think it was new for a lot of guys, really. Doesn't really happen very often, I don't think.”

When he returned to the golf course just after 3.00pm Walker was ready to go and although he reeled off a series of pars through the front nine he was still in front when he missed the green at the 10th. He would however hole the bunker shot there for birdie and then holed a lengthy birdie putt at the next to get to 13 under and at that point had moved two ahead of Day.

The consecutive par fives to finish at Baltusrol appeared as if they would play a key in the outcome but Day missed a birdie opportunity from 14 feet there and headed to the 72nd tee still two behind.

That gap would become three when Walker, playing in the group behind, pitched to 9 feet at the 17th and converted and with a three shot lead playing the last surely it would be a bridge too far for Day.

Day, however, would hit a magnificent tee shot of 270 yards with his two iron from the 18th tee and then hit that same club again from 257 yards to 14 feet. When that putt curved in from the right edge the margin was just one and Walker knew if he was to win his first major championship he would need to make par.    

Walker was not about to second guess himself. “You know, when Jason holes out for eagle on the last hole it doesn't give me a whole lot of time to soak it in. It was still game time. If he makes birdie, I've got a couple to play with and I can relax a little bit, but I didn't get to relax.

"I was standing out there on the fairway and just said, Andy (caddie) and I both said, let's go for it. I didn't say this, but I figured, 19 times out of 20, you're going to make a five going for the green from right there. We had a good front number, and that's what we did, and went with it.Ended up having to make a little, you know, tester coming in and just buried it. It was awesome.”

Walker’s form coming into the PGA did not suggest his first major was likely but he saw it differently.

“I felt like some stuff kind of clicked last week, literally in the last like nine holes. Everything felt good. I kept it going. Finished off the round. Finished off the nine holes. I finished 14th, but it felt big to me. Like everything worked, like my head was there. I was in every shot. I feel like, just kind of all year, take a step forward, two back, step back, two steps back, three steps forward, step back. I've been just kind of like in limbo.

“That's just kind of how the week felt -- or that's how it felt. But I felt like last week, I saw something. It felt good. We worked on a knee move. Working on my overall attitude on the golf course. And it all started to feel like, for nine holes, it really clicked.”

Day will be disappointed but it is hard to imagine that he is not excited by the manner he finished things off and hit the shots he needed to under the upmost of pressure. If he had won, the shot he hit to the last and the resultant eagle could well have gone down in golfing folklore. It wasn’t to be but it is a shot that will stick long in this writer’s memory and no doubt the memory of those involved.

Jason Day (Getty)

Day had been disappointed that his putt on 17 had not dropped but enthused over his shots to the last.

“I think I was a little disappointed with the putt on 17,” said Day. “I really read it to go left-to-right and it went dead straight. I hit a good putt. Just can't do anything other than hit a good putt; unfortunately didn't.

“Yeah, I mean, going down 18, the play, you think the play is to hit driver, but I could hit a 2-iron down there, especially with the tee up. I hit a great 2-iron down there and I just said, let's just try and finish off with a bang, try to give him something to think about and just keep pushing forward.

“The 2-iron into the green was probably one of the best 2-irons I've ever hit into a par 5, especially under the circumstances. And you know, as soon as I hit it, it felt perfect straightaway, and I knew it was just kind of cutting up against the wind. It was going to land soft. It was going to be really nice.

“You know, on days like this, you've just got to keep pushing yourself harder than anyone else, mentally more so than physically. I know it's tough; it's grueling, and you've got to -- like it's more mentally painful to go through days like this, just because you get to a certain point and that barrier, you'll be sitting there and going, I just don't know if I can push on anymore.

“It's really quite fun to see how far you can actually push yourself mentally, more so than physically. Playing 36 holes today, especially under the pump, not knowing what was going on, really, and finishing that way, was pretty special."

Day was asked about his phenomenal record of high finishes in majors. “I just want to win, that's all. I keep saying every week, I just want to win. And the big stuff, you know, the major championships, the PLAYERS, the WGCs, I think I get a real big kick out of playing well in those, because obviously there's more people watching, and there's -- I don't know.

“For some reason, I just enjoy the moment of trying to step up and hit shots like I did on 18 and being in contention. I can tell you why I love competing, but I just don't know why the finishes have finished the way they have. Would have liked to have, instead of the four seconds, I would have liked to have five majors. But I just have to be more patient, learn from this experience today, try and move on for next year, and I'm looking forward to Augusta National next year.”

Day has now had eight top four finishes in major championships but at the age of still just 28 there is plenty more opportunity to build on his winning record.

Daniel Summerhays finished alone in 3rd position with Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace and Brooks Koepka sharing 4th.

John Senden and Adam Scott finished as the next best of the Australians after Day when they tied for 18th at 5 under and nine shots from the winner.


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