HONOLULU (AP) — Jimmy Walker was getting coffee Sunday morning when he saw that U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer had lost a 10-shot lead with 13 holes to play in Abu Dhabi. He went back to his room and told his wife, “Winning is hard.”
Later that afternoon, Walker made it look easy.
With the most impressive performance of his career, Walker blew away the field Sunday in the Sony Open by closing with a 7-under 63 to win by nine shots, a record margin for the tournament and the biggest rout on the PGA Tour in nearly six years.
Walker watched Jordan Spieth win the Hero World Challenge last month by 10 shots against an 18-man field and wondered if he was on another planet.
“And that’s kind of the way it feels when you watch those performances,” Walker said. “You see them and are like, ‘Man, what golf course is that guy playing?’ And to be able to say you’ve done that and you’ve distanced yourself like that, it’s really cool. I think it’s a good learning experience. Definitely happy to keep the pedal down.”
The timing could not have been better.
Six days ago on Maui, Walker lost a tournament he felt he should have won. Sunday on Oahu, he played like he was on his own island.
On a course that lends itself to a free-for-all, Walker shot 62-63 on the weekend and never gave anyone much of a chance. The previous Sony Open record for margin of victory was seven shots, last done by Paul Azinger in 2000. Walker became the first repeat winner of this tournament since Ernie Els in 2004.
Scott Piercy closed with a 66 to finish alone in second. Matt Kuchar, who started the final round two shots out of the lead, didn’t make a birdie and shot 71 to tie for third with Harris English and Gary Woodland, who each had a 67. Kuchar ended his streak of 255 rounds on the PGA Tour with at least one birdie.
But this was Walker’s show, and it came with a small measure of redemption.
Walker had a three-shot lead with five holes to play at Kapalua last Monday when he wound up losing to Patrick Reed in a playoff at the Tournament of Champions. With a quick turnaround, he quickly put it behind him.
“I really wanted to finish out the day like I didn’t do last week,” Walker said.
He finished at 23-under 257.
The text message Sunday morning from swing coach Butch Harmon was to “keep the pedal down today.” The message from caddie Andy Sanders over just about every putt was, “Don’t let up.”
The decisive moment came at the par-4 eighth hole. Walker and Kuchar both opened with seven straight pars, and Walker stuffed his pitching wedge from 126 yards to 3 feet for birdie. Kuchar pulled his tee shot into the royal palms, punched out short of the green and made bogey.
That two-shot swing gave Walker a four-shot lead, and he was on his way.
“I felt like up to that point everything was kind of stale,” Walker said. “I was playing hard, and I hit some really good shots on the first three holes, just didn’t make a putt and finally got it open and I finally made the putt. Made a good birdie on 9, another one on 10, and the putts starting go in after that.”
Walker made all seven of his birdies over the final 11 holes, and he couldn’t miss on the back nine. He took a total of 20 putts on the back nine at Waialae in the third and fourth rounds. And even with a big lead, he kept grinding away over putts he didn’t need to make.
It was the largest margin of victory on the PGA Tour since Brian Gay won at Hilton Head by 10 shots in 2009. This was more reminiscent of the last time someone lost in a playoff, and then won the next week. That was Kyle Stanley in 2012, though the circumstances were entirely different.
Stanley made triple bogey on the last hole at Torrey Pines and then lost in a playoff. He won Phoenix the following week with a great rally. Walker didn’t do that much wrong at Kapalua except for one bad swing off the tee and failing to make a few putts. Still, the loss stung, and he was more than happy to head home to Texas for a two-week break with another trophy.
“He’s one of the hottest players in the world,” Piercy said after his round, when Walker was pulling away. “What he’s done the last year or two years, nobody’s catching him. It’s just a cake walk.”
Walker didn’t treat it like one, which might be why he won by such a healthy margin.
It was his fourth win in his last 32 starts, and he should move up to career-high No. 13 in the world ranking. During his two-week stay in Hawaii, Walker averaged 66 each round and picked up just under $1.7 million. Most importantly, he’s going home with another trophy.