SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Nobody was talking about the weather after Jimmy Walker and Jason Day engaged in a memorable duel over the closing holes of the 98th PGA Championship with heavy clouds hanging close over Baltusrol Golf Club.
In the end, all of the drama was inside the ropes.
A stoic Walker captured the first major title of his career, rolling in a pair of critical putts on the 17th and 18th holes to answer the late challenge of Day. It was a wire-to-wire victory for the 37-year-old Texan. Walker closed with a 3-under 67, finishing with a 14-under total of 266 on the saturated Lower Course.
There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room.
“God, just to be in it and be there and have a chance and then to finish it off, it’s so gratifying,” Walker said after finishing a stroke ahead of the defending champion and collecting the Wanamaker Trophy. “I wouldn’t have called this, but it’s huge.”
The 37-year-old Texan has five career wins on the PGA Tour, but he’s been struggling of late.
Walker had not finished in the top 10 since early March and he failed to make the cut at Oakmont and Royal Troon.
And somehow he managed a bogey-free round.
“I know exactly that feeling, and he’s a very deserving winner,” Day said of Walker. “Hats off, because it’s not easy to win tournaments and he controlled himself pretty darn well all day.”
The stress level increased exponentially as the daylight began to fade.
Day came to the last needing to make something happen when a birdie attempt on the 17th hole stayed on the left edge. He deposited a 2-iron on the gettable par 5 in the fairway, then hit the club again from 254 yards.
The ball came to rest on the 18th green inside of 15 feet.
In an instant, the grandstand spectators were up roaring. Walker had to back off a birdie putt on the 17th hole, but regrouped quickly. His 14-footer caught just enough of the right edge before disappearing.
“I didn’t know he had taken a three-shot advantage,” said Day, who dropped the eagle putt to close with a 67 and get within a shot of the lead. “I didn’t know if he holed the putt before my shot or after my shot because I didn’t hear anything really.”
He took a long look at the scoreboard on the way up to the green, reacting to the deficit with a putter flip.
“It was nice to get the eagle,” Day added. “I was just trying to make Jimmy think about it, but obviously he just played too good all day. The birdie on 17 was key for him.”
Walker did not have an opportunity to bask in the glory.
“I figured birdieing 17 was huge and that was going to cap it off,” he said. “And then Jason making eagle sure makes the job a lot harder on the last hole. So, you know, kudos to him. You wouldn’t expect anything less, best player in the world.”
Both players move from tournament to tournament on coach buses, so they spend a fair amount of time in close proximity of each other and have become friendly over the years.
Walker hit the 18th fairway with an iron, then pulled a 3-wood to go for the green. The second-guessing began even before he took a swing and sent the ball right of the green. It came to rest between a bunker and the grandstand some eight feet below the putting surface.
“I was thinking positive,” he said. “I thought about laying up, but I had a good lie in the fairway, had a good number.”
Walker quickly estimated he could make par under those conditions 19 of 20 times.
He played a lob out of the gnarly rough and the ball came to rest some 33 feet on the quick side of the hole. It wasn’t over. The first putt traveled nearly three feet past the hole. It still wasn’t over. The next putt was dead center.
It was over.
“Really cool way to finish,” Walker said. “Making a putt like that, to win, right in the middle, was just awesome.”
None of the leaders were able to get on the course Saturday before heavy rain forced the suspension of third-round play, forcing a 36-holes grind on Sunday, albeit with a lengthy break in between.
Walker had a difficult time treading water early in the third round, dropping two strokes on the front side. He made four birdies coming in, signed for a 68, and was back on top of the leaderboard at 11-under.
Day went into the final round one shot back after shooting a 67 in Round 3.
Hoping to complete play before the daylight ran out Sunday, the PGA of America decided against repairing in between rounds.
“It would have been nice,” Day said. “But we all understand we were just trying to get the championship in.”
Players were allowed to lift, clean and place any ball coming to rest on closely-mown areas. It was the first time preferred lies were greenlighted in a major championship.
“There was nothing easy about the day, really about the week for that matter,” Walker said. “Especially coming down the last hole.”