Miceli: Self-analysis pushes Walker to wins
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Where could Jimmy Walker possibly go from here? Maybe that’s a question that should have been asked after his first win at the Frys.com Open or after his second win after the Sony Open.
But now that Walker has entered the elite company of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as one of only four players since 1995 to win three times in eight starts, it seems only appropriate to see what Walker can accomplish next.
Each win for Walker came in a different way. He was nine shots back after 36 holes at the Frys.com Open, then shot 62-66 on the weekend to win by two over Vijay Singh.
At the Sony Open, Walker started fast with an opening-round 66, then treaded water for the next two rounds with consecutive 67s before a blockbuster 63 gave him a one-shot victory over Chris Kirk.
But at Pebble Beach, Walker had to deal with sleeping on a six-shot lead, a very different experience and one he seemed to struggle with Sunday.
“I learned that having a big lead's tough,” Walker said after a final-round 74 and a one-shot lead. “I think I'm going to put some good stuff in the memory bank of having a big lead and what to do with that, how to deal with that, especially coming down the stretch. So I think that's what I'm going to take from it most.”
Records and statistics matter not when you can put a “W” in the win column, yet stats were what made Walker better by his own admission.
It was just a simple thing, looking at his scoring average on par 4s and par 3s. Two years ago, Walker took a look and couldn’t believe he was as poor as he was on par 4s.
In 2012, Walker was 62nd in par-4 scoring average with a 4.05 average. In 2013, Walker made a conscious effort to change his scoring on par 4s and was second on the PGA Tour with a 3.99 average. In 2014, he's fifth with a 3.91 average.
“I was 60 or 70 over on the par 4s,” Walker said. “And I just got to thinking like, 'Wow if I just parred every par 4, I would save 60 some odd shots this year.' And if you did the math on it, at a golf tournament, I would have won one. And so that got me kind of thinking."
Walker looked at his par-3 scoring average next. Last year, he was 161st on the PGA Tour with an average of 3.13. So far in 2014, Walker is 49th with an average of 3.01.
The fix to both the par-4 and par-3 scoring was simple: Don’t play too aggressively; and let the birdies come, but make pars.
“I really felt like I thought to win out here you really needed to make a ton of birdies and you needed to do this and you needed to do that," Walker said. “And I feel like I've kind of come to the realization that par's a really good score sometimes. And it's about grinding your pars out and making pars.”
Clearly it has been a process for Walker. The simple analysis of focusing on par-4 and par-3 scoring and the realization that par is a good score has been what got him to where he is in the 2014 season.
But his ability to take advantage of that information, act on it and ultimately win because of it makes one wonder: What is next for Walker?
It’s easy to put him on a pedestal while he is winning at a prodigious rate, a rate only the best players of his era have accomplished.
It is also easy to now look at Walker as a favorite not only in every event he is in the field, but also in WGC and majors – where he has struggled mightily.
Which is clearly the next step. Walker seems to have all the tools now and certainly has the confidence required to take the next step.
He has gotten over the first-win hurdle and then over the multiple-win hurdle; the next hurdle for Walker is the major hurdle.
So no matter what happens during the next couple of months, good or bad, Walker's next and biggest challenge awaits him at Augusta National.