The Punter's USPGA Championship De-Brief: Walker hangs tough at Baltusrol

Jimmy Walker with the Wannamaker trophy
Jimmy Walker with the Wannamaker trophy

Steve looks back on the 98th USPGA Championship, where huge outsider Jimmy Walker held on bravely to deny the world number one, Jason Day. Read our man's customary look back on all the week's action here...

“Although considered the weakest of the four majors in terms of stature, the USPGA field is often the strongest and deepest of the four and this year was no exception. And that may explain why it’s such a good tournament for outsiders – Walker was the sixth winner in 16 years to go off at odds in excess of 200.0199/1.”

It took Jimmy Walker 188 starts to get off the mark on the PGA Tour and even then he needed a late slip-up by the then rookie, Brooks Koepka, to let him in at the low-profile Open. At 34, he was something of a journeyman in 2013 but here he is three years later, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and a deserved major champion.

After a subdued 2016, with just one top-ten finish since January, Walker had slipped down to 48th in the world rankings and he was sent off at 220.0219/1. He's the first wire-to-wire winner of the USPGA Championship since Phil Mickelson in 2005 (also at Baltusrol) but he was helped in some part by the weather.

The leaders didn't even start their third rounds on Saturday because of heavy rain and lightning and the forecast had suggested more of the same yesterday but the storms didn't materialise and playing 36 holes in one day suited Walker.

It's never easy to sleep on a lead and it wasn't a huge surprise to see Walker start round three poorly yesterday, with three bogeys in his first eight holes, but he turned his round around brilliantly on the back nine and he was superb in round four. Not having to dwell too long on his standing in the tournament between rounds three and four was an advantage for someone looking to get off the mark and one of his nearest challengers, Henrik Stenson, ran out gas completely on the back-nine in round four. But you couldn't fault Walker's gritty finish.

World number one Jason Day, who had been matched at just 2.0421/20 during round three, started round four tardily with bogeys at the first and third but he pushed Walker all the way at the death with an eagle at the par five 18th. Walker would have heard the loud roar that erupted when Day hit his approach to 18 to inside 14 feet but unperturbed, he rolled in his birdie putt on 17 and that gave him the cushion he needed and a steady par on the 72nd hole gave him a title he richly deserved.

The rain had rendered Baltusrol somewhat defenceless to the world's best and for much of the back-nine; it felt as though the 98th USPGA Championship would finish with a bit of a whimper so Day deserves a lot of credit for his determined finish. It created some much needed late drama.

"An eagle at the last? That's unreal." Said Walker afterwards. "That really put it on me to make par, and I got it done."

Walker was the fifth first-time major winner in-a-row

My Bets

It hasn't been the best of weeks but it hasn't been awful. My three pre-event picks all missed the cut so that was disappointing and so was Stenson's finish. The Open champion, who I backed in-running after round one, hit a low of 2.427/5 around the turn in round four but he was never really at the races and despite an excellent long game, his putter was cold all week long.

It felt like a slow and protracted demise and I felt almost a sense of relief when he double-bogeyed the 15th to finally put paid to his chances. I could see he was slowly faltering and I layed some of my wager back at 2.962/1 but I wish I'd layed more of it back and I also wish I'd followed the stats and backed the winner after round one...

As highlighted and debated (see comments) in the In-Play Blog, first round leaders already had an excellent strike-rate at Baltusrol and at this major. If I'd have played the stats alone I'd have backed Walker at 20.019/1 after round one and that's disappointing too.

What Have We Learned For Next Year?

Although considered the weakest of the four majors in terms of stature, the USPGA field is often the strongest and deepest of the four and this year was no exception. And that may explain why it's such a good tournament for outsiders - Walker was the sixth winner in 16 years to go off at odds in excess of 200.0199/1.

It's a great tournament for outsiders and it's also a fantastic event for first-time major winners and Walker was the 13th to break his major duck in this tournament in 21 years.

Walker's win also meant that all four majors in 2016 were won by first-time major winners and even though it's just the fifth time that's ever happened, it's the third time in 14 years and between 2010 and 2012, we saw nine straight first-timers win. The game is more competitive than it's ever been.

Most USPGA Championship winners have been in good form coming into the event and Walker wasn't playing awfully. He claimed to have 'found something' in the Canadian Open the week before when finishing 14th and although he'd missed the cut at the Open Championship, he kept the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational link going nicely, despite the event being moved to accommodate the Olympics.

That tournament usually precedes this one and it probably will again next year so it's worth noting that Walker had sat second after round one at Firestone at the start of the month, before slipping to 16th, and that finish means that the last ten USPGA winners have all finished inside the top-22 in that event. That's not a bad angle in given a number of them, like Walker, have gone off at a huge price.

That's it as far as major championships go for 2016 but it's been a great year. This one was probably the least exciting and it's always disappointing when wet weather changes the course and disrupts the betting but all four have been enjoyable. We've still got lots to look forward to though with the Ryder Cup, the FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai and even the Olympics in a fortnight's time but before all that, I'll be back later with a preview of the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour and tomorrow I'll take a look at the Paul Lawrie Match Play on the European Tour.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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