Walker holds his nerve to claim PGA Championship win

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Winning feeling: Jimmy Walker.

American Jimmy Walker became the fourth first-time winner of a major tournament this year when he beat defending champion Jason Day by one shot and claimed the PGA Championship title on Sunday.

The Texan, world No. 48, was wire-to-wire champion as he finished with a bogey-free round of three-under par 67 at Baltusrol to finish on 14-under par.

Day, who made a sensational eagle three on the 18th hole to put pressure on Walker, finished with a 67 himself and was runner-up at 13-under par.

Walker had claimed a one-shot lead after the delayed third round was finally completed, carding a 68 to finish 11-under par and a shot ahead of defending champion Jason Day.

A run of nine straight pars was enough to keep the 37-year-old out in front before he spectacularly holed a bunker shot on the 10th, and then drained a massive putt from nearly 30 feet to give himself a two-shot cushion against Day.

Day made a spirited defence of his title, but he left himself a lot to do after starting with two bogeys in the first three holes. He bounced back with birdies on the fifth, ninth and 11th, but despite his late eagle, that was too little to catch up with the solid Walker.

Open champion Henrik Stenson’s bid to become the second player after Rory McIlroy in 2014 to win the PGA Championship as well came to an end when he made a double bogey on the par-4 15th hole after over-shooting the green with his second shot.

He finished with a 71 to be eight-under par.

South African Branden Grace (67), posted the clubhouse mark at nine-under par which held for a while before American Daniel Summerhays (66) went one better at 10-under par.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (68) and American Brooks Koepka (70) joined Grace at nine-under par.

World No. 3 Jordan Spieth (68) missed a birdie from six feet on the 18th to finish the tournament on six-under par.

Also on six-under par was Padraig Harrington (68), the 2008 PGA winner. The 44-year-old Dubliner made a fast start with birdies on the third and fifth, but was unable to make any further inroads.

“They’ve put a lot of back pins out there and it’s difficult to get close to them with these soft greens,” Harrington said. “I didn’t really give myself many chances and it was a little disappointing not to birdie the last, but such is life.

“I probably played my best on Thursday and shot the worst score, which is interesting. Six-under is probably a good return on the week, although it’s obviously not good enough.”

Harrington started the week 140th in the FedEx Cup standings and needs to climb inside the top 125 before August 21 to qualify for the first play-off event the following week.

“So many things are better,” the three-time major winner added. “I’m happy with my swing, getting a lot better with my putting, getting a lot better with my mental side.

“The only thing I’m not comfortable with would be my short game. Then when I look at the PGA Tour, I’m No. 1 in bunkers and No. 4 in strokes gained around the greens, but I don’t see it so good. Maybe I need to change my attitude.”

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#360view: Last chance saloon for McIlroy, Spieth

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The season that Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have had – winning three tournaments between them and recording seven and ten top-10 finishes respectively – would have looked impressive for the majority of golfers.

However, such is the talent of the two stars, and the level of expectations they create, failure to win this week’s PGA Championship will be seen as a season to forget. If they win a handful of PGA or European Tour titles, that’s kind of expected. No big deal really.

But ever since McIlroy won back-toback majors in 2014 and Spieth replicated that effort last year, they have transcended themselves to a level where their success is calculated by how well they do in the four majors. This year, McIlroy has top-10s in the Masters and the Open Championship, but has missed the cut in the US Open.

Spieth, after that spectacular collapse during the final round of the Masters, struggled to get a sub-par round until the Sunday at Royal Troon. And both players admitted as much at Baltusrol.

McIlroy said a win on Sunday would elevate his season from a B minus to an A plus, while Spieth believes he has not improved much as a player since 2015 and this is his opportunity to show he is making progress.

The PGA Championship used a tag-line ‘Glory’s last shot’ until a couple of years ago, and this is proving to be the case exactly with the world No3 and No4. Neither player is taking part in the Olympics, so they cannot even think of a gold medal to brighten up their season.

Yes, the FedEx Cup remains and both players are in contention, but that really is more money than honour. Winning the Ryder Cup would be nice, but being part of a team event is a completely different feeling to bagging a major.

World No1 Jason Day is also in a similar position, winless in a major this season, and yet he did win the Players, a World Golf Championship, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, three of the strongest non-major events during the year.

The relatively small greens at Baltusrol will suit someone like Spieth given his phenomenal short game, but he did not have the best Open championship with his putter. McIlroy, on the other hand, is most comfortable in the PGA Championship.

The course set-up and conditions suit his game to a tee, and the proof of that is only once has he finished outside the top-20 in the tournament in seven starts.

And yet, it will be extremely difficult for the duo to get their hands on the massive Wanamaker Trophy. The reason for that is the exceptional form being shown by players like Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson.

There are several interesting storylines at Baltusrol this week, but the one involving Spieth and McIlroy is the most compelling one to follow.

Among others, there is the possibility of a first-time major winner taking the glory in all four events this year. The two best players not to have won a major, after Stenson departed that group less than a fortnight ago, are Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

One can perhaps also include Rickie Fowler in that group now. And of course, there is Phil Mickleson, the perennial favourite of the American fans. It would be interesting to see how he gets over his Open heartache this week.

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Five players to watch at the PGA Championship

Sport360 staff 28/07/2016
Sport360's five to watch in New Jersey.

Who will reign at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, this weekend?

The last major of the year arrives fresh off the back of the British Open, with the event, typically held in mid-August, being brought forward because of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Who do you think will win? Let us know your thoughts, get in touch using #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

HENRIK STENSON

An obvious choice given his stunning victory in the Open, but Stenson would have been worthy of inclusion on the basis of his previous record in the event. Four of the 40-year-old Swede’s top seven finishes in majors (before Troon) had come in the US PGA, including third places in 2013 and 2014. The only question is whether the world No5 can carry the momentum from the Open with him across the Atlantic, or whether his heroics will catch up with him during a busy spell.

PHIL MICKELSON

Another easy option considering his 17-under-par total at Troon, including a major equalling 63 in the first round and a flawless 65 on Sunday, would have won 140 of the 145 Open Championships ever staged. However, Mickelson also earns his place because of past performances, most notably his victory the last time Baltusrol staged the event in 2005. The 46-year-old left-hander has returned to the golf course several times to use his status as an honorary member.

RORY MCILROY

Not only is the two-time PGA champion (2012 and 2014) super-motivated to finish the season on a high, he is also in decent form as his tied fifth finish at The Open showed despite facing the worst of conditions the first three days. More importantly, the Northern Irishman seems to love the conditions at the PGA Championships, having finished outside the top-20 only once in his seven career starts. His driving gives him a huge advantage on most courses and Baltusrol is no exception. Really, all he needs is for his putter to behave for four rounds.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

US Open champion Johnson hit 71 per cent of fairways and 72 per cent of greens in regulation at Troon, but was undone by two costly double bogeys in round two and a triple bogey in the third. The world No2 dropped five shots on the 11th hole alone and still finished inside the top 10 to continue his superbly consistent form in 2016. His power will also be a major advantage on the closing stretch which features a 230-yard par three and back-to-back par fives measuring 650 and 553 yards.

ZACH JOHNSON

Finding players who did well at Baltusrol in 2005 and are still competing at the highest level is not easy, but two-time major winner Johnson (who finished 17th) fits the profile. Although he has not tasted victory since lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews last year, Johnson has quietly been compiling a series of good finishes this season, including eighth in the US Open, 10th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and 12th in the Open, where a poor third round denied him a top-five finish.

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