Jimmy Walker began Sunday and ended Sunday with a four-shot lead as he became the first two-time winner on TOUR in 2014-15 in the first 20 events. Walker shot a final round two-under-par 70 to post 11-under 277 to win the Valero Texas Open at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. He defeated Ryder Cup teammate and fellow Texan Jordan Spieth by four shots. 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel found his way back to the podium for the first time in 12 events as he finished third alone three more shots adrift.
With a four-shot lead on a course in his hometown, it would have taken something extremely special to knock off Walker on Sunday. His only three previous 54-hole leads on TOUR resulted in WIN-T2-WIN, including his destruction of the field at the Sony by nine shots this January. Walker was over par for one hole on Sunday so any chances that Spieth or the chase crew had were few and far between. Walker’s bogey on No. 7 was followed by a birdie on the par-five No. 8 and a par on nine to finish the front even par. His birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 squashed the hopes of a late-charging Spieth who would have needed to close eagle-eagle to force a playoff.
Gamers who didn’t understand what “luck of the draw” meant before this week were treated to a harsh lesson Thursday and Friday. Winds blowing 25 mph and gusting into the 40 mph range made play almost impossible Thursday morning. The field averaged 78.61 in the morning wave and 74.86 in the afternoon. The morning wave on Friday went out in 73.10 and the afternoon was 71.58 so it wasn’t a picnic either day but Late Thursday-Early Friday was around three shots on average easier than Early Thursday-Late Friday. See why I wait for #WeathermanRob?
The Oaks Course will find its place, rightfully so, among the toughest on TOUR again this year but the first two days should have an asterisk because of the weather conditions. Hell, TWENTY TOUR players fired 80 or worse on Thursday and the six-over 150 was the highest non-major cut on TOUR since six-over 148 at the 2012 Quicken Loans National at Congressional (par 71). Honda, at four-over, was the previous highest line this season. There were three bogey-free rounds entering Sunday (one each day).
Why This Performance Doesn’t Surprise:
For the second time since the turn of 2015 the San Antonio resident created a big 54-hole lead and blew the field out of the water to win. His first victory of the season was by NINE shots at Sony after he lost a Monday playoff to Patrick Reed the week before at the HTOC. This week his four-shot lead held up on Sunday as well as win No. 5 in his career was by a closing margin of four shots. As noted above, Walker’s worst finish with the 54-hole lead is T2. His other three finishes are wins. He has learned how to kill off golf tournaments and now has five wins in his last 37 starts. That’s strong.
His record at the Oaks Course had been mixed with T3 in year one followed by MC-MC-T31 the next three seasons. Walker started his heater in early in 2013 before cooling off later that summer so going back any farther than that to “find something” is a waste of time. The “new Walker” is as far as I start looking back. In 2013 he closed with 67 to secure that T31; last year it was 71-71-69 after opening with 76 to wrap up T16. With the hometown crowd roaring every birdie on the weekend there was no chance he was blowing this lead.
Why This Performance Surprises:
There are always a few contrarians out and about so I’ll throw them a few bones this week. As shown immediately above, this might not have been the track where, if short on starts, that Walker would have made sense this week. The other angle was he hadn’t played in three weeks and his last outings were T21 at Pebble, T41 at Riviera, two courses that he ADORES and T31 in his last event at Doral. If Walker wasn’t going to fire on his favorite course (Riviera) or on a course where he had a six-shot lead on Sunday last year (Pebble) this wasn’t the week to pound that round peg into that square hole.
If the question this week to the gamer was win or not win, I wouldn’t have talked them out of “not win” based on the above. Walker was in my lineup this week because he knew the course, knew the winds and didn’t have to get out of the bed he had been in for the last three weeks. Some guys value home cookin’ and their own bed!
How Walker Won This Week:
Playing on the proper side of the draw, he was one of two players to post all four rounds under-par this week. Spieth, who finished second by three shots, also accomplished this.
His 67 on Friday was the T-low round of the week with Charley Hoffman’s opening 67 on Thursday.
His 22 birdies led the field for the week. He made nothing worse than bogey. He co-led the field with 19 birdies last year. He makes lots of birdies and lots of birdies here.
Walker has never been known as an accurate driver of the golf ball but he doesn’t care as far as he hits it. For the week he was fourth in driving distance and T45 in fairways.
Walker is known for assaulting GIR and his smooth putting stroke and he was on fire with his approaches and short game all week as well. He led the field in GIR, SGP and strokes gained total.
In conclusion, he hits it a mile, pegs the most GIR and holes the most putts to make the most birdies. EASY GAME!
Entering the season Walker was perceived as poison in season-long salary cap games because of his three wins, seven top 10s and $5.7 million haul from last year. Who’s going to repeat that? Well, he’s 10 events into this season and has racked up over $3.5 million already with two wins, a second and two other top 10s. His favorite courses are all on the west Coast and those are the ones he DIDN’T play well this season!
Moving forward, he has four majors to play and he hit the top 10 in three last year. He also has two more WGC events and if he chooses, four FedExCup Playoff events to go. Folks who bailed last year after the winter missed T8 at Augusta, T6 at THE PLAYERS, T10 CPIAC, T9 US Open, T7 PGA, T9 DBC plus T20 and T17 to close out the Playoffs. He’s healthy, happy and playing great after his mini-break to start spring on the proper foot!
With This Win:
His fifth win in 37 events keeps him on top of the heap in the FedExCup standings. It seems like he’s been leading that for 50 of the last 52 weeks! He pockets another $1.1 million plus and will have another chance at international team competition on the Presidents Cup later this fall.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After 28 wins in 45 events last season, the USA continues its dominance this year. Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb, Ben Martin, Brandt Snedeker, James Hahn (born in Korea; US citizen), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Every and Walker again are the USA champs. Alex Cejka (Germany), Paddy Harrington (Ireland), Sangmoon Bae (Korea), Nick Taylor (Canada) and Jason Day (Australia) are the five international winners in the first 20 events.
Only Haas, Bae, Martin, Moore and Walker have closed their 54-hole leads. Walker is the only person on BOTH sides of his list as he couldn’t close out his lead at Kapalua. The last NINE players who’ve held the 54-hole lead have not closed the deal. Walker broke that streak this week as his four-shot lead held up. He’s now two out of three with the 54-hole lead this season. That makes it 13 of 20 who have been unable to hold down the fort in 2014-15. Golf is hard.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. After 20 events in 2015, Martin, Streb, Taylor, Koepka, Hahn and Cejka have made their breakthroughs.
In six events at the newer Oaks Course, no player has defended or won multiple times. Last year’s champ, Steven Bowditch, was on the wrong side of the draw and MC.
He becomes the eighth Texan winner in the last 16 events in San Antonio.
Even with the tough conditions, this was the third time in six years that the winner posted double-figures under par.
Walker is the only multiple winner on TOUR this season.
Only three players in the last two years have played all four rounds under-par.
There were 14 players par or better for the week; there were 10 players under-par for the week.
This is two weeks in a row without a playoff!
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
I annually keep track of the age of the winners on TOUR because I’m an ageist. GET OFF MY VIAGRA.
Bae got the youngsters (under 30) on the board first in 2014-15 followed by Martin and Streb, both 27. Nick Taylor, 26, popped in to close out 2014 at SFC. Reed joined the party at a whopping 24 at HTOC followed by Koepka, 25 in Phoenix and Jason Day, 27, at Torrey Pines and Spieth, 21, at Valspar got the youth back to their winning ways with eight winners in 20 events this year.
Matt Every (31) added his name to the list last week as Walker now gets the TWICE treatment! Dustin Johnson (30), James Hahn (33), Brandt Snedeker (34), Bill Haas (32), Jimmy Walker TWICE (36), Charley Hoffman (37), Bubba Watson (36) and Ryan Moore (31) are the prime time guys with silverware (30-39 years).
The old guys (40 and over) are all bowing down to Paddy Harrington as he defeated 21-year old Daniel Berger at Honda. This week K.J. Choi reminded gamers that he’s lived in Texas for a while and a little wind isn’t going to bother him. His T15 was by far the best by the “old” guys. Mickelson checked in at T30 after he couldn’t take advantage of his 70-72 start. He began Sunday T12 and shot 76 after 74 on Saturday slowed him down.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10 this week:
Jordan Spieth: He followed his win in Tampa with solo second this week. He’s now hit the top eight seven times in his last 10 events worldwide. He moves up to No. 4 in the OWGR. He’ll turn 22 at the end of July. Gamers, the next big decision on Spieth will be when to burn his final _______ starts. He said last year that the HPBNC does NOT fit his eye and he’s not comfortable there. OK, we’ve found ONE place he doesn’t like…He was the only other player this week that put all four rounds under par.
Billy Horschel: I didn’t have the confidence to put him the preview column but I knew he would be happy to get out of the Florida Swing again this year. He played five of his last six rounds at the Oaks Course under par over the last two seasons and added three more this year. The other round was 72, even par, to open the week Thursday. Even the hardiest Horschel supporter would have had a hard time to make his T3 in 2013 stand up before the week started. He was coming off finishes of T22 (of 34)-T41-T30-MC-T45-MC-T46-T43 this calendar year. I would point out that he ended 2014 MC-T37-T73 after winning the final two events of the FedExCup Playoffs. His last three at VTO are T3-MC and solo third this year. Yeah, he likes this track, no doubt.
Daniel Summerhays: He backed up his current form and course form this week to post T4. He was T7 here in 2013 and was T2 last season and this makes it six events in a row where he’s played the weekend. He was No. 15 in the rankings entering the week and birdies in his four of his final five holes saw him add another round, 69, under par to his three year total. That’s now eight of his last 12 on this track UNDER par. This is his highest grossing event so he’s an automatic for TOADs next year. His accuracy off the tee and warm flat stick were the difference.
Chesson Hadley: Captain Snaps loves the month of March as the end of winter and beginning of spring brings his game to life. He was second in birdies this week with 20 and his putter (3rd, SGP; 2nd, PPGIR) was scalding. He also finished T13 in GIR so his iron play was also very solid. He’ll be disappointed as he doubled hole No. 4 Saturday and Sunday and made a triple on No. 14 on Friday. He also made a double in the first round as well. That’s nine-over on FOUR holes for the week!!! His T4 finish is his second-best finish in his career after his 2014 victory at the PRO.
Dustin Johnson: More proof that when this man is healthy that he needs to be in the lineup as not even 78-72 to open the week could keep him out of the top 10. His first two rounds saw him make the weekend on the number and man did he make it count. He was the only player to put both rounds on the weekend in the 60s (68-68) and jumped from T75 to T18 to T6. Not bad for never playing here before either! I argued if the weather would turn sour that this is a guy I’ll put in my line up and I did. And I was rewarded with 68-68 on the weekend when I put him in. He led the field in driving distance and was T4 in GIR. It didn’t hurt he racked up 18 birdies either. The last time he played a long, strong course he won at Doral. Not a bad follow-up this week!
Ryan Palmer: His 68 on Sunday was one of those, like DJ, that moved him into the top 10 for T6. The Texan proved that his final round 82 last year was his hip and his hip only. After T25 at Honda and T12 at Doral it’s not a surprise that he had success on another, big difficult course. This is his third top 10 in seven events this calendar year. #Believe
Brendan Steele: Like Summerhays, the Valero Texas Open is the TOUR stop where Steele has cashed for the most cash in his career. He ground out T8 with a birdie on the final hole that put him into the top 10. He’s now made 15 cuts in a row and 11 in a row this season. This is his third top 10 in five starts (WIN in 2011; T4 in 2012) at the Oaks Course. I guess the wrong previous champion for my OAD. Next year, just stick him and Summerhays in the TOAD and enjoy the week! For those gamers like me who missed out, don’t worry: Circle TPC River Highlands! Season-long gamers are laughing out loud as Steele is already over $900k after making just $1.3 million last season. Good spot!
Chris Kirk: Welcome back to our universe Captain! We’ve all missed you in The Takeaway! The last time he appeared here on Sunday night was his spirited T4 defense of his title at McGladrey last October. Since then, his best finish in a full-field event was T26. Gamers who are nervous will be relieved with T8 this week on the back of 16 birdies on a tough track. His putter and short game were excellent as well as he played his final 14 holes in three-under only hitting seven of 18 greens. Get hot and go, bro!
Scott Pinckney: The 2014 Web.com Tour grad has thrown up a pair of top 10s in his last three starts on the big TOUR. He was T6 at PRO but MC at Valspar the following week. His T8 this week came in a very balanced performance as he was fourth in SGP and T11 GIR. He was playing the layout for the first time he only carded 10 bogeys (T6). Ok, I’ll keep an eye out, he’s earned that.
A quick recap of what happened to the Chalk from my preview column:
Jordan Spieth: Second, see above.
Dustin Johnson: T6, see above.
Kevin Na: Just two shots out of the lead after the cut, Na only made three birdies on the weekend (75-75) for T20. One more reason never to get too excited until the 72nd hole is played. He was fourth in strokes gained tee-to-greens but he left too many shots on the greens on the weekend.
Jim Furyk: OK, color me officially concerned about the 44-year old after he couldn’t find his normal top finishes at Valspar and now Valero. Maybe it’s just tournaments that begin with V. Maybe Father Time has taken the putter and isn’t giving it back. He made four of his nine birdies for the week in a final round 72 for T58 after T40 at Valspar. He was second in fairways but 62nd in SGP. He was T3 in 2013 and T6 last year.
Jimmy Walker: Win, see above.
Matt Kuchar: His 69 on Sunday saw him move up 18 spots to T15. That’s now T22 or better in the last four years at VTO but this year he was on the wrong side of the draw so be happy, not greedy, gamers.
Zach Johnson: He began the final round four-under and just one shot out of second. After two birdies in his first five holes he was six-under and just three back. He played his last 13 holes in six-OVER to finish T20. He tried out a brand new flat stick this week and he was 73rd of 75 in SGP. He did lead the field in strokes gained tee-to-green and was T5 with 50 pars. There’s something there.
Martin Laird: His 73-76 weekend saw him finish T50 but he’s still played the weekend in nine of his last 10. The only problem is his results are trending in the wrong direction. Put him down for Quail Hollow down the road.
Jason Kokrak: He’s finally broken through with three events in a row finishing inside the top 25 with T11 this week. After four holes he appeared on the first page of the leaderboard but the rest of Sunday he played four-over to drop out of the top 10. Peter Jacobsen reminded all of us that he almost won at SHO a few years ago so he’ll be back in the column Tuesday.
Brendon Todd: He entered the weekend one-under but was four-over through his first four holes on Saturday and disappeared. His 75-74 weekend saw him finally land at T30 so his steady play continues.
Ryan Palmer: T6, see above.
Matt Jones: He fought off the bad luck of the draw to find the weekend and after his scintillating 68 on Saturday he was T12 heading into the final round. His sandy eagle on the final hole saw him post 75 and drop to T26. His sandy birdie on the first playoff hole at the SHO last year saw him win his first title. OMGCANYOUBELIEVETHECOINCIDENCESATWORKHERE?
Brendan Steele: T8, see above.
Daniel Berger: Er, one birdie in 36 holes. Kids, eh?
Daniel Summerhays: T4, see above.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon
I’ll publish my weekly preview, Range Rover, around lunchtime, children permitting. I’ll focus on history, current form, course characteristics, winning qualities and those who I think will and will not.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon, Pt. II
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday late afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it every Tuesday until the Presidents Cup.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at the Shell Houston Open plus answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.