Walk his way: Walker learning more with each win

By Doug FergusonFebruary 10, 2014, 11:36 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The brightest lights that interest Jimmy Walker are found in another galaxy through his high-powered telescope.

He goes to Las Vegas strictly for work.

''I've probably spent more time with him than anyone else the last two years,'' Butch Harmon said Sunday night after watching Walker win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for this third win of a PGA Tour season that is only four months old.

''He's not a big party guy. He's not a big gambling guy,'' Harmon said. ''He comes to Vegas a lot, and he comes to work. He's just works hard, has a lot of talent, a good demeanor. I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with this guy.''

It will take a few more months to figure out how big this iceberg might be.

Winning on the PGA Tour has never been more difficult than it is now, which makes Walker's start even more remarkable. Three wins is a great year for anyone not named Tiger Woods, and Walker has achieved that in only eight starts.

Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval - the best three Americans of their generation - are the only other players in the last 20 years to have won three times in eight tournaments to start a season. Woods has done it eight times (and still might this year).

Beyond the trophies are the different circumstances for each victory.

Walker was steady in the final hour of the Frys.com Open four months ago at CordeValle, making birdie on a par 5 and closing with three pars for a 66 to take advantage of the late blunders by Brooks Koepka. Last month at the Sony Open, a tournament that any of a dozen players could have won on the back nine, Walker pulled away with three straight birdies for a 7-under 63 and a one-shot win.

Pebble Beach might have been the toughest. He had a six-shot lead going into the final round. Woods, an exception in just about every category throughout his career, is about the only person who looks comfortable with a big lead. Walker couldn't remember having a lead like that even as a junior golfer.

There was just enough wind at Pebble Beach to expose a mistake, not enough wind that someone could make a run. Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner at Pebble Beach, closed with a 66 despite making three bogeys. Jim Renner shot 31 on the back nine. They finished second - barely.

Walker looked solid through nine holes, had a five-shot lead at the turn, yet had to make a 5-footer for par on the 18th for a 74 and a one-shot victory.

''I think I'm going to put some good stuff in the memory bank of having a big lead and what to with that, how to deal with that, especially coming down the stretch,'' Walker said. ''I played really well the last three days and ... I really just wanted to finish it off. And we did.''

Harmon could see Walker get tentative with his putting stroke, and that's what made it close. Walker came up woefully short on a wedge to the 13th and three-putted. He missed a 3 1/2-footer for another three-putt bogey on the 17th that cut his lead to one shot playing the 18th. And he provided more drama than he wanted by rolling his 25-foot birdie attempt some 5 feet by the hole on the 18th. The final stroke was his best of the back nine.

''It's very difficult to have a big lead,'' Harmon said. ''He's never had one. He's never known how to act. I'm proud of him. this will help him in major championships when he gets in that position.''

Walker sought out Harmon two years ago at a time when Harmon was looking to scale back his stable. This does not sound like a big project. Harmon could see that Walker had power in his swing and steady hands on the putter.

''He has an old-school swing with a lot of knee drive in general,'' Harmon said. ''He had a narrow, long backswing, and when he transferred his weight the club would get behind him. We put some width in his swing. But he's worked hard on all aspects of his game.''

The test for Walker comes later, and that will be the measure.

Walker went up to No. 24 in the world Monday, a number that would be a little higher except for the strength of the fields he beat. He has played only one World Golf Championship (last year in Shanghai). He has never played more than two majors in a year, and he has only made the cut in a major twice - once in 2001 at Southern Hills in the U.S. Open right after getting out of Baylor.

He has a big lead in the Ryder Cup standings, and while his spot on the U.S. team in October looks to be safe, there are still four majors (double points), three WGCs and The Players Championship (a $10 million purse) ahead of him. There is work left.

Then again, those three wins were not an accident. Winning is hard. After going 187 events without winning, Walker looks comfortable doing it.

''I just go out and play golf,'' Walker said. ''This is what I want to do and I've worked really hard to do it, to be here. And to be in this position and it's really cool.''

Cool as an iceberg.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”