AKRON, Ohio – It’s been a difficult year for Jimmy Walker, but he may be turning things in the right direction just in time to defend the biggest title of his career.
Walker broke through to win the PGA Championship last summer, and he had hoped to use that as both the cornerstone of an accomplished career and the catalyst for even greater performances.
The latter half of that equation was quickly derailed as he struggled with fatigue and flu-like symptoms in the months that followed, ultimately diagnosed with Lyme disease in the spring.
As Walker struggled to pinpoint his physical ailments, his game suffered in turn. He hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the winners-only SBS Tournament of Champions, where he tied for ninth, and he entered this week ranked 39th in the world – nearly back to where he was prior to his win last year at Baltusrol.
But Walker has found something in his game through 36 holes of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he leads Thomas Pieters by two shots after rounds of 67-65.
“It hasn’t been a lot of fun this year,” Walker said. “But it’s nice to see some putts go in and make some solid swings and keep rounds going, make some par putts. Just the stuff I haven't been doing.”
It was a marathon day at Firestone Country Club, where three separate rain delays made it difficult for players to find a rhythm. Walker was not immune, but he successfully battled his physical symptoms while recording six birdies against a lone bogey.
“I felt pretty good all week physically, and I wake up this morning and I’ve just got this overall flu feeling in my body, so I take some Advil and it goes away,” he said. “Then during the last break it came back, so I took some more. Now it’s gone. Just crap like that, you just never know when it’s going to spike up.”
Walker credited a top-15 finish at last year’s RBC Canadian Open as the spark for his win at the PGA, and while he’d prefer to take some momentum with him for his title defense at Quail Hollow he’s more focused on simply putting up a good result, period.
“It’s always important to have a good week. I haven’t had too many this year, it’s kind of rough,” he said. “But things have been trending, I kind of feel like, and hopefully this is shades of things to come.”