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Stat Attack!: How and why Walker is winning

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Wikipedia lists 20 athletes named Jimmy Walker in its rolls, including a South African Olympic cyclist, an NBA all-star from Providence College and several soccer players from Great Britain. But the only golfer on that list has fast become the most prominent Jimmy Walker of all. And if you’ll excuse the cliché, he’s having a dynamite season, one that would make the comedic actor, the former mayor of New York and every other Jimmy Walker proud.

How rarefied is the air that Jimmy Walker is breathing right now? With his third win of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am, Walker became the fifth player since 1970 to win in three of the first 12 weeks of the PGA Tour season, and he’s the first player not named Tiger Woods to claim that feat since David Duval in 1999.

Players with three wins in the first 12 weeks of the PGA Tour season

 Player Year Third win Week number
 Jimmy Walker 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach 12
 Tiger Woods 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational 12
 Tiger Woods 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational 11
 Tiger Woods 2003 Arnold Palmer Invitational 11
 Tiger Woods 2000 Arnold Palmer Invitational 12
 David Duval 1999 Players Championship 12
 Hubert Green 1976 Heritage 12
 Johnny Miller 1975 Bob Hope Classic 5
 Johnny Miller 1974 Tucson Open 3

With a much-closer-than-it-should-have-been one-stroke win over Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner on the Monterey Peninsula, Walker also holds another unique distinction. His final-round 74 Sunday at Pebble Beach was not only the highest final round by a winner in almost two years, but paired with his winning 63 on Sunday at the Sony Open at Waialae CC, it gives him the best and worst last rounds by a winner in 2013-14. When he won the Sony Open a month ago, Walker came from two strokes off the lead. At Pebble, he began Sunday with a six-stroke advantage. That he struggled with such a large lead wasn’t unexpected. Of the last eight players to hold an edge of six strokes or more through 54 holes at a PGA Tour event, only three won by as many as four strokes. Spencer Levin at the 2012 Phoenix Open was the only one to lose his lead, but none of the others won by more than two strokes.

Highest final rounds by a winner since 2008

 Player Score Tournament
 Martin Laird 75 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational
 Trevor Immelman 75 2008 Masters
 Jimmy Walker 74 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
 Dustin Johnson 74 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

SIx-stroke leads through 54 holes on the PGA Tour since 2010

 Tournament Player Lead Result
 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach Jimmy Walker 6 Won by 1
 2014 Humana Challenge Patrick Reed 6 Won by 2
 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Tiger Woods 7 Won by 7
 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Phil Mickelson 6 Won by 4
 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Spencer Levin 6 Third, lost by 2 to Kyle Stanley
 2011 U.S. Open Rory McIlroy 8 Won by 8
 2010 Northern Trust Open Steve Stricker 6 Won by 2
 2010 John Deere Classic Steve Stricker 6 Won by 2

Walker’s season has been remarkable. He leads the FedEx Cup race by 757 points. His total of 1,733 points would have placed him fifth in the season-ending standings a year ago.  His $3,605,833 would have been 13th on the final money list in 2013. 

Jimmy Walker’s results in 2013-14

 Tournament Place Scores To Par Money World Rank
 Frys.com Open Won 70-69-62-66—267 -17 $900,000 45
 Shriners Hospitals T12 71-68-64-67—270 -14 126,000 43
 CIMB Classic 6 74-68-67-68—277 -11 252,000 40
 WGC-HSBC Champions T46 73-73-69-70—285 -3 52,500 42
 Hyundai T of C T21 73-73-67-72—285 -7 79,333 47
 Sony Open  Won  66-67-67-63—263  -17 1,008,000 32
 Farmers Insurance Open MC 74-71—145 +1   32
 AT&T Pebble Beach Won 66-69-67-74—276 -11 1,188,000 24

Walker has improved his greens hit in regulation, his strokes gained putting and his birdie conversion percentage considerably this season. Never one of the more accurate players off the tee, Walker is hitting more than 71 percent of his greens this year, an improvement over his 66 percent mark a year ago, but he has made his biggest gains on the green. He’s averaging more than a shot better in the strokes gained/putting category and has improved his birdie conversion rate from 31 percent to 37 percent.

Jimmy Walker's statistics since 2010

 Year Driving accuracy percentage Greens in regulation percentage Strokes gained/putting Birdie conversion percentage
 2014 50.35% 71.30% +1.330 37.76%
 2013 52.18 66.07 +0.272 31.39
 2012 52.74 64.30 +0.461 31.05
 2011 53.13 65.92 +0.232 29.03
 2010 51.29 65.88 +0.252 29.22

A closer look at Walker’s putting stats shows where the improvement is coming from. Always a fine putter from less than 10 feet (he led the Tour in putting from 4-8 feet in 2012), he’s shown a major increase in percentage of putts made from 10-15 feet and 20-25 feet this year. In fact, he’s 12th on tour from 10-15 feet this year, up from 81st a year ago and 176th in 2012. He’s 23rd in putting from 20-25 feet, up from 101st a year ago.

Jimmy Walker’s putting percentages from various distances

 Year 4-8 feet Less than 10 feet 10-15 feet 15-20 feet 20-25 feet
 2014 75.36% 89.22% 40.82% 21.21% 18.52%
 2013 68.77 81.17 30.28 19.31 10.89
 2012 76.50 89.35 25.11 21.94 13.38
 2011 70.39 87.10 31.58 20.16 12.30
 2010 66.16 87.43 35.51 16.53 10.62

Walker has taken advantage of the first wrap-around season in PGA Tour history like no one could have imagined. After making 187 starts without a victory, he's won three times in his last eight. It will get tougher as the season progresses, as the top international players rejoin the PGA Tour in the run-up to the Masters. And Walker will be right there with them, having qualified for the WGC-Accenture Match Play, the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Masters for the first time. We'll see if he can get win No. 4.