5 Things: Walker's 3rd win; Spieth rebounds
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It was a 2-over 74, but Jimmy Walker didn’t need anything better to win his third PGA Tour event in the first eight starts of the 2014 season.
With the victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Walker joined David Duval, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three times in their first eight events to open a season.
Walker wasn’t the only player to walk away happy this week, as Jim Renner shot a final-round 67 and finished T-2 with Dustin Johnson.
For Renner it was his first made cut in his 2013-14 season and the $580,800, will not only put him in good stead toward keeping his card in 2014, but he won't have to Monday qualify for this week's Northern Trust Open, gaining a spot by virtue of his top-10 finish.
Here are 5 Things to know from Sunday at Pebble Beach:
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1. WHERE TO PUT ALL THOSE TROPHIES? Jimmy Walker has won as a professional on lesser stages, but leaking oil down the stretch at Pebble Beach, Walker knew if he could just hang on he would win his third event of the season.
When Walker drained a 5-footer for par, he would cash his largest check ever – $1,188,000 – and increase his position on the FedEx Cup points list by 757 points over his closest pursuer, Harris English.
“I don't know where to start,” Walker said of his worst round of the tournament, a 2-over 74. “I felt like I was hitting it pretty good, and I struggled with the speed of the greens coming in.”
Walker had never experienced such a big lead on the PGA Tour or in any other event. It was an adjustment and a learning experience at the same time.
With a one-shot lead on the par-5 18th hole, Walker made an adjustment. He hit a 4-iron off the tee after his caddie talked him into it.
Safe, Walker had hit it so well that he was right of the fairway in the higher rough, but he also was dry and could move the ball down the fairway to a wedge distance for his third shot and then two-putt for the victory.
“I think it's cool because I think that it seems every time I've won a golf tournament, it's under different circumstances," Walker said. "Things happen. You never can tell what's going to unfold in front of you. I learned that having a big lead's tough. And I think I learned a lot today about what to do, what kind of shots to hit.”
Now Walker goes down the coast about 400 miles, to Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. For Walker, the hottest golfer on the planet, it means going to one of his favorite courses, where his length off the tee can be a distinct advantage.
For the rest of the PGA Tour, they'd better hope Walker celebrates a little too much; otherwise, the next win for Walker could be in Los Angeles.
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2. TIME FOR VACATION: Phil Mickelson is off on a two-week vacation before playing the first two tournaments on the Florida Swing – the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship – in a run-up to the Masters.
Mickelson’s West Coast jaunt was a forgettable one, with a WD at the Farmers Insurance Open after a back issue, a T-42 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and this week's T-19 after rounds of 66-73-71-74.
But Mickelson seems unfazed by this lackluster start to the calendar year.
“I hit it well all week, and I'm excited about my ballstriking,” Mickelson said. “This is the worst putting week I've had in a year and a half. And I'll get that fixed, because I've been putting just terrific for the last year and a half.”
The statistics back Mickelson’s premise that he hit the ball well, ranking sixth in fairways hit and first in greens in regulation. And as Mickelson said, his putter was suspect, with 125 putts – which ranked 62nd, near the bottom of the pack for the week.
“When the Tour goes to Florida, that's really the run to Augusta, in my mind,” Mickelson said. “That's where you start thinking about Augusta, you start preparing for it, getting ready to head down there. So, it's nice to know heading into that stretch in a couple weeks, that the parts are there. I just have to put them all together.”
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3. SPEED DRILLS: With six three-putts in the third round at Pebble Beach, Jordan Spieth was pretty much playing for FedEx Cup points in Sunday’s final round.
Playing in the second group off at 9:11 a.m., Spieth didn’t think about winning, just hoping to post a good round after what could be described only as a disaster Saturday (and finished on Sunday morning).
As the round progressed, Spieth moved up the leaderboard, and the fist pump on the 18th hole punctuated his third birdie. Along with an eagle at No. 2 to start his day, that added up to a bogey-free 67.
“It was a big putt for me because really at the beginning of this round I wanted to get back to 9 under,” Spieth said of the birdie putt at the 18th. “I wanted to get all of them back, although that wasn't a possibility when I had that putt. It's just one of those where you're on 18 in the final round and it's going to mean a lot for momentum.”
The difference between the third and fourth round was “speed drills,” according to Spieth.
“I think it was huge, the fact that I went and did some speed drills on the practice green,” Spieth said. “In my head I was striking the ball great; I knew I was. . . . It was all on the greens, and once I got on the practice green and then I got some speed work in and I saw some putts go in, 6‑foot straight putts, and I made 10 in a row, and once that happened it just turned around in my head.”
Spieth would finish T-4 with Kevin Na at 8 under, but the positive final round that was more important for Spieth.
“You can always take something out of it,” Spieth said of the third round. “Very rarely do you play a golf course in those conditions where it's that whipping wind and rain. Growing up in Texas, we see wind. Everybody had to play with it. It's not like Monterey or Spyglass would have been any fun, either. Definitely not blaming the fact that we were on this course, it's just – I just didn't play smart enough.”
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4. OUT OF NOWHERE: Combined, they rode into Pebble Beach with an 0-for-9 record. Nine starts. No cuts made. That equates to no money, of course, but neither Jim Renner nor Andrew Loupe was making excuses. Both said it was up to them to make things happen when they got the chance to play – and give them credit, they surely made news.
Loupe opened with a 63 at Monterey Peninsula to assume the first-round lead. Although he struggled with the putter from there to shoot 73-76-73, he hung on for a share of 27th.
For Renner, it clearly turned out beautifully, a closing 67 pushing him to 10-under 277. Although he came within one of a possible three-way playoff, he was not about to complain.
“I just said to myself, ‘This is the position I’d like to be in more often, so go with it,’ " Renner said.
Like Loupe, Renner was on the Web.com Tour a year ago, so the $580,800 he earned blew away his entire 2013 earnings. But Renner hardly looked like he didn’t belong, especially the way he played the 18th, knowing he had to birdie to at least tie the clubhouse leader (Dustin Johnson, at 10 under). Though he hit a hybrid a bit fat and came up 30 yards short of the 18th, Renner coolly hit a wedge to inside 5 feet and made his seventh birdie of the day. Then came a long wait in cool ocean breezes; but even when it didn’t end the way he wanted, Renner had a prize he covets: a spot in next week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera. As for Loupe, he was packing up, headed toward Los Angeles for a Monday qualifier in a bid to join Renner in the Riviera field.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Lost in the hoopla of a tournament that went to the 72nd hole was the fact that Renner’s closing round, which fell just short of the big prize, powered a pro-am victory for him and John Harkey, Jr. They began the fourth round six shots off the lead, but came home in 11-under 61 to finish at 31-under. They edged Rory Sabbatini and Blake Mycoskie by one. . . . For four days, the field average at Pebble was 73.385. It was 72.857 in Round 4. . . . Kevin Chappell made the only birdie at the par-3 fifth hole, the toughest at a field average of 3.476. . . . There were two eagles at the par-4 fourth, one by Will MacKenzie, one by Scott Gardiner. . . . Bryce Molder finished in a three-way tie for 10th, his first top 10 since the 2009 Deutsche Bank Championship. . . . Only two eagles were made at Pebble’s 18th, both in Round 4 – by Bronson La’Cassie and Russell Henley.