AVONDALE, La. – It’s beginning to feel like college again for Billy Horschel, and not just because we’re only a short drive from Bourbon Street.
No, as a standout at Florida, Horschel was virtually always inside the top 10 – his estimate was about 85 percent. In one months-long stretch the summer after his sophomore year, he had a chance to win at the prestigious Porter Cup, Western Amateur and Northeast Amateur. In 2006-07, his senior year with the Gators, he won twice and seven times was in the top seven. So he’s no stranger to hot streaks.
That he has gone T-2, T-3 and T-9 in his past three PGA Tour starts, thereby elevating himself from curiosity to consistent contender? Big deal.
“Confidence is knowing that no matter how bad I hit it Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, once Thursday comes a button clicks and I know I was going to find some way to play well,” he said Saturday. “To be out here on this stage with this pressure, I think this is obviously my best stretch – and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon.”
Alas, one of the only reasons Horschel, might not win Sunday at the Zurich Classic – other than trailing Lucas Glover by two shots – is because, well, another guy who seems destined to win soon, Jimmy Walker, might just beat him to the finish line.
Horschel, 26, and Walker, 34, haven’t just been knocking on the door lately. They’ve practically called in the SWAT team, surrounded the champion’s palace, and threatened to break out the battering ram. The countdown has begun.
After graduating from Q-School last December, Horschel looked directly into a Golf Channel camera and declared that he would win this season. To repeat: This was expressed at Q-School. Yet after three consecutive close calls, Horschel is actually disappointed that he hasn’t won sooner. He’s nothing if not a perfectionist.
In Houston, he lost to D.A. Points, who couldn’t miss down the stretch.
In San Antonio, he shot 71 after holding a two-shot lead and lost to Martin Laird’s 63.
And in Hilton Head, he played the closing two holes in 5 over par on the weekend.
Here on Friday, he was 3 over through eight holes and in danger of missing the cut for the first time in 23 starts, the longest active streak on Tour. But he turned it around to scrape out a 71, only to get off to another sluggish start in Round 3. Once again, he came home in 31 to post 12-under 204 and now sits two shots behind Glover, who doesn’t know quite what to expect from himself or his previously balky putter.
In other words, Horschel is exactly where he prefers: chasing.
Going back to college, he won only once when leading heading into the final round. Now that he’s joined the play-for-pay ranks, not much has changed.
“It’s just a little more focus in knowing that I have to go chase somebody down,” he said.
Also in hot pursuit is Walker, still winless after 173 starts.
Last August, he reached out to Butch Harmon, hoping the swing coach to the stars could elevate his game to the next level. It took only one lesson for Harmon to be convinced, and he soon brought Walker on as a full-time client.
They focused primarily on two areas of improvement: takeaway and follow-through.
Walker had long had a habit of dragging his hands back during the takeaway. No longer – Harmon now has Walker taking the clubhead quicker going back.
On the follow-through, Walker better releases the clubhead and tries to feel as though he moves his body toward the target.
That has freed up Walker’s swing, and created more speed, more power, more consistency.
After a steady if unspectacular 2012 campaign (six top 10s), Walker has three top-10 finishes this season, including a pair of top fives. He’s fifth in scoring average, ninth in birdies per round and 15th in the all-around ranking.
But perhaps most important for Sunday’s finale: Walker is ninth in final-round scoring average, at 68.60.
“It’s just a progression,” he said. “You feel comfortable and win one, and then you feel more comfortable winning, and then you start doing it a little more often. I feel like I’m around the top more and it’s fun. It’s very addicting.”
Just imagine how a victory might feel, for both him and Horschel.