Monday, February 10
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Even with his high-powered telescope, Jimmy Walker might have had a hard time finding himself among the stars.
Just four months ago, Walker began his eighth season on the PGA Tour with no wins in 187 attempts. With a little more drama than he wanted Sunday in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he held on for his third victory in his last eight tournaments.
In the last 20 years on the PGA Tour, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval have won so often so early in a season.
"I don't know if it was just a matter of doing it once and then having it happen again and then happen again," Walker said holing a 5-foot par putt on the 18th at Pebble Beach for a 2-over 74. "I've always felt like I could win out here, and I think that's what you have to believe to be out here — that you belong and that you can win. And finally, it happened. And it's cool that it's happened a couple more times. Quickly."
He was feeling a little more heat than he needed only another cool, cloudy afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula.
Walker had a six-shot lead at the start of the final round. He was still five shots clear when he made the turn, and he was two shots ahead with two to play. With two putts for the win from 25 feet, he ran his birdie attempt about 5 feet by the hole and had to make that to avoid a playoff with Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner.
"It's drama, man," Walker said on the 18th green. "It was too much for me."
The finish wasn't what he wanted. The result was what Walker has come to expect.
He was never seriously challenged until Johnson, and then Renner, put together a strong finish. Johnson, a two-time winner at Pebble Beach, closed with a 66 on a card that included three bogeys. Renner, who had yet to make a cut all year, made five birdies on the back nine for a 67.
Walker made a 10-foot birdie on the 11th hole and was seemingly on his way.
But he hit a poor chip on the par-3 12th for a bogey. He three-putted the 13th for a bogey. He three-putted the 17th for bogey, missing his par putt from 3½ feet.
"I hate three-putting," Walker said. "I had two of them back there, and definitely didn't want another one on the last."
Walker finished on 11-under 277 and earned $1.188 million, expanding his lead in the Ryder Cup standings to more than $1 million over Mickelson in second place. The Ryder Cup is based on PGA Tour earnings, though there are still four majors (which count double), three World Golf Championships and The Players Championship remaining.
For now, the stars are aligned for Walker better than anything he sees through his high-powered telescope, his hobby over the last five years.
"I just go out and play golf," Walker said. "This is what I want to do and I've worked really hard to do it, to be here, and to be in this position and it's really cool."
Jordan Spieth had to return Sunday morning to complete his third round, which ended with his sixth three-putt of the round for a 78. He faced Pebble at its most vicious throughout the third round, though he bounced back with a bogey-free 67 to at least tie for fourth with Kevin Na (69).
And he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
"Yesterday was a day where you want to play Pebble Beach in that weather once in your life," Spieth said. "You just don't want it be Saturday when you're in the lead."
Chalk it up to another learning experience for Spieth, who said his 36 putts were more a product of not having the speed than the less-than-smooth quality.
"I felt like I needed birdies when I didn't," he said.
Another strong finish belonged to Graeme McDowell, returning to Pebble for the first time since his U.S. Open title in 2010. He closed with a 67, happy with a week in which he would have settled for just knocking some rust off his game before heading to Riviera next week.
Outside of Walker, however, the big winner was Renner.
He was among the Web.com Tour graduates who played poorly in the four "finals" event that determine priority ranking, and struggled to get into tournaments. In his fifth start, he not only made his first cut, Renner earned a spot at Riviera next week and will be in better position to get into events over the next couple of months.
"It was pretty big," Renner said. "I just knew I needed a good week. My back was up against the wall, and that's something I'm familiar with and I don't mind it. But I'm happy that I freed myself up a little bit for the rest of the year."
DIVOTS: Jim Renner and John Harkey Jr., the CEO of Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Inc., won the pro-am portion of the tournament. ... Tim Wilkinson, playing in the final group with Jimmy Walker, closed with a 73 and tied for seventh. That gets him into the Northern Trust Open next week at Riviera. ... Walker was the fourth Pebble Beach winner since 1994 to shoot 74 in the final round — Johnny Miller in 1994, Dustin Johnson in 2010, and Graeme McDowell in the 2010 U.S. Open.