Walker wins in a runaway at Sony Open
HONOLULU (AP) Jimmy Walker got the message.
The text he received Sunday morning from swing coach Butch Harmon was to ”keep the pedal down” with a two-shot lead going into the final round at the Sony Open. The words he kept hearing from caddie Andy Sanders over just about every putt carried the same edict. Don’t let up.
Six days after he let a victory get from him on Maui, Walker never gave anyone a chance on Oahu. With seven birdies over the last 11 holes and no bogeys on the toughest day of the week, Walker closed with a 7-under 63 and set the tournament record with a nine-shot victory.
He couldn’t sleep the night after losing the Tournament of Champions in a playoff. He headed off into the sunset with a winner’s lei draped around his neck, his fourth career victory, a career-high world ranking of No. 13 and more reason to believe he’s on the cusp of joining the elite in golf.
”I really wanted to finish out the day like I didn’t do last week,” he said.
Walker had a three-shot lead with five holes to play at Kapalua when he had one bad swing that led to bogey, missed a couple of birdie putts and was caught by Patrick Reed, who beat him in a playoff. The Sony Open was different, and it showed.
Walker seized control with a two-shot swing on No. 8, the start of four birdies in a five-hole stretch that built his lead to six shots. He went just long on the 14th hole and chipped downhill about 6 feet past the hole. A bogey was not going to stop his march to victory, but that’s not how Walker saw it.
With only his coin on the green, he stood over the putt and practiced with one hand. He placed his golf ball down – but left the coin there – and went through another rehearsal. Stepping back, he repeated the process. And when picked up the coin, he still gave it another look.
He sure didn’t look like someone with a six-shot lead. Instead, it was someone determined to get a different outcome.
”I wanted to finish the day, finish the round,” Walker said. ”I didn’t want to give anything back. I didn’t want to make a bogey. Andy kept telling me, `Finish it out. Let’s make the putt.’ I chipped it by and he said, `Make it.’ And I wanted to. Hit a good putt and went in the middle.”
His lead at eight shots on the 17th hole, he again looked determined over a 10-foot putt and made that one. Sanders was there with a reminder.
”He said the same thing again when he handed me the ball,” Walker said. ”He said, `Don’t let up.’ And I made that one.”
Walker was making them all, particularly on the back nine at Waialae. Over the final two rounds, he took only 20 putts on the back nine – nine one-putt greens on Saturday, and 11 putts on Sunday. That usually wins tournament. And when staked to a lead, it wins them big.
Walker finished at 23-under 257, nine shots clear of Scott Piercy, who closed with a 66. Piercy was six shots behind when he finished, saw the guy at the top of the leaderboard and realized second place wouldn’t be all that bad.
”He’s one of the hottest players in the world,” Piercy said after his round, when Walker was pulling away. ”What he’s done the last year or two years, nobody’s catching him. It’s just a cake walk.”
On a course that lends itself to a free-for-all, Walker shot 62-63 on the weekend and never gave anyone much of a chance. The previous Sony Open record for margin of victory was seven shots, last done by Paul Azinger in 2000. Walker became the first repeat winner of this tournament since Ernie Els in 2004.
Matt Kuchar, who started the final round two shots out of the lead, didn’t make a birdie and shot 71 to tie for third with Harris English and Gary Woodland, who each had a 67. Kuchar ended his streak of 255 rounds on the PGA Tour with at least one birdie.
”He’s playing some phenomenal golf,” Woodland said of Walker. ”I saw him this winter out in Vegas working with Butch, and you could tell then he was dialed in.”
It was the largest margin of victory on the PGA Tour since Brian Gay won at Hilton Head by 10 shots in 2009. The Hero World Challenge last month is unofficial. That’s where Jordan Spieth won by 10 shots against an 18-man field that included Walker. It made Walker wonder if Spieth were from a different planet.
”And that’s kind of the way it feels when you watch those performances,” Walker said. ”You see them and are like, `Man, what golf course is that guy playing?’ And to be able to say you’ve done that and you’ve distanced yourself like that, it’s really cool. I think it’s a good learning experience. Definitely happy to keep the pedal down.”