Walker Holds First Round PGA Lead at Baltusrol

Day, Fowler Lurking Three Shots Back
By M. James Ward, Epoch Times Contributor
July 29, 2016 Updated: July 29, 2016    

SPRINGFIELD, NJJimmy Walker is quite familiar with contending and winning regular PGA Tour events. He’s done it 5 times. However, when it comes to the major championships in golf, the 37-year-old native of Oklahoma City has been in need of Mapquest for specific directions at the sport’s grandest events. For at least one round Walker showed he understood exactly where he needed to go during Thursday’s first round of the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club.

Playing in the morning wave Walker got off to a fast start birdieing the 10th hole—his first of the day—and playing his first nine in four-under-par 32. Walker’s only blemish on the card was a bogey on the long par-4 6th but he bounced back immediately with a birdie at the demanding par-4 7th. His five-under-par 65 gives a him a one stroke lead over three players: among them includes two-time major champion German Martin Kaymer at 66. Walker’s 65 ties matches his low best 18-hole score in 15 total rounds in the PGA Championship, doing similarly in the final round of the ’14 event.

Walker has not had a good 2016 by his standards. Prior to this week’s PGA—he’s had 19 starts on Tour this year with only 3 top ten finishes—the most recent coming at the WGC Cadillac at Doral back in March with a 6th place finish.

Jason Day reacts on a green during the first round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Jason Day reacts on a green during the first round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Walker has three top tens in the major championships but they all came in the same year in 2014. Over the last two years—in seven starts since then—he’s missed the cut three times and his best finish was a tie for 29th in the 2016 Masters.

Given his history it was indeed shocking to see Walker grab the solo lead in the final major championship for ’16. Walker has shown a propensity to play well early in golf seasons and then for whatever reason disappear as the key events deeper in the golf season have emerged. Walker himself admitted as much.

“Sometimes it’s hard. I’m not going to lie. It’s tough. You feel like you’re killing yourself and you’re giving it all you’ve got and you’re not seeing it. Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off. But over time—it will—I think.”

As defending champion Jason Day played only practice round on Wednesday prior to the championship’s start. The 68 he shot matched the same opening number the Aussie posted last year when winning at Whistling Straits. “I think with a major championship, you’ve got to be patient, take you’re opportunities when you can and work yourself up to the lead come Sunday. If you get off to a great start, great. If not, kind of chip away at it.”

The highest ranked player without a major—Rickie Fowler—showed a renewed desire to make his presence known after suffering two missed cuts in this year’s Masters and US Open. Fowler, like Day shot 68. “I’ve been playing well and I got a lot of good work in last week,” said Fowler in his post round press appearance. “Definitely nice to get off to a good start this week and get off and running.” 

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19th hole summaries …

JASON DAY, RORY MCILROY AND PHIL MICKELSON IN FEATURE AM PAIRING …

Rickie Fowler plays a shot on the tenth hole during the first round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Rickie Fowler plays a shot on the tenth hole during the first round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Only Day shot under par with a matter-of-fact 68. McIlroy was again impacted by a balky putter—unable to discern the various contours and speed of the putting surfaces. Mickelson started poorly for the first 11 holes, going plus four and eventually concluding the round with a one-over-par 71.

DUSTIN JOHNSON HUMBLED …

U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson looked out of sorts with several ill-advised shots courtesy of poor execution. Johnson double-bogied the tough downhill par-4 3rd with a three-putt ending. Johnson concluded his round with a par -bogey finish at the back-to-back par-5 holes. The #2 ranked player in the world will need to play significantly better Friday or he will be heading home.

KAYMER’S COMING …

2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer (-4) beat the rain with a 66 that included five birdies and just a single bogey. Kaymer made 56 feet worth of birdie putts, including a 21-footer on Baltusrol’s first hole (Kaymer’s 10th hole of the afternoon). While Kaymer is in search of his first victory worldwide since winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2014, he has made the most of his wins on American soil. In addition to the aforementioned U.S. Open victory in ’14, Kaymer won The Players Championship in 2014 and, of course, the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Somewhat surprisingly, today’s 66 was only Kaymer’s seventh career round in the 60s at the PGA Championship.

STENSON’S IN THE 60s AGAIN …

With his 3-under-par round of 67, Open Champion Henrik Stenson now has 29 rounds in the 60s for the year. That’s also five in a row for Stenson, dating to the first round of the Open Championship (68-65-68-63 in the Open Championship; and today’s 67 in the PGA Championship).

THE TOUGHEST HOLES AT BALTUSROL LOWER …

The key to scoring well centers on the first seven holes. The 1st, 3rd, 6th and 7th are all exacting long par-4’s and they played as the 3rd, 5th, 4th and 1st most difficult respectively. The par-3 4th and par-4 5th came in a tie statistically as the 7th most demanding.

AM versus PM …

35 players posted sub-par rounds in today’s Opening Round of the 98th PGA Championship. 25 of the 35 sub-par rounds came from the morning wave.

M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.