Sport Golf

Sunday 25 February 2018

'Lunch tastes better when you put a frown on his face' - US PGA leader Walker on how he got one over Rory McIlroy

Jimmy Walker and (inset) Rory McIlroy
Jimmy Walker and (inset) Rory McIlroy
Jimmy Walker of the United States plays his shot from the 13th tee during the first round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Jimmy Walker took money from Rory McIlroy in practice rounds and carried on his good form to lead the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol yesterday.

Walker, 37, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, set the pace with a sizzling five-under-par 65 to match the sweltering heat as temperatures soared above 90 degrees in the morning.

He was soon followed home by Argentina's Emiliano Grillo and Ross Fisher, the 2010 Irish Open winner, each man carding 66, for second place alongside Germany's Martin Kaymer.

As the day wore on, the afternoon wave, which included Open champion Henrik Stenson (68) Shane Lowry (72), Graeme McDowell (74), faced cooler conditions with strengthening winds and rain, so the advantage in terms of scoring rested with the morning groupings.

The greens also got bumpier, and all those factors resulted in some average-to-high scores for big names.

Jordan Spieth showed signs of frustration before ending his round on level par 70.

Jimmy Walker drives off the 13th tee on his way to leading the first round of the US PGA at Baltusrol Picture: Getty
Jimmy Walker drives off the 13th tee on his way to leading the first round of the US PGA at Baltusrol Picture: Getty

Recently crowned US Open champion Dustin Johnson slumped to 77, while Danny Willett, the Masters champion, registered a 71.

Kaymer made a late run at Walker's lead, reaching four-under after 12 holes, but could not move the dial any further, and closed on 66, -4, and still well in the hunt.

Clearly rounds in the mid-60s were on offer, but not for McIlroy, who shot 74 to lie nine shots adrift of Walker.

The American Ryder Cup player had 'put a frown' on the face of the Northern Irishman early in the week, but only in fun.

"First day (Tuesday), we played a 12-hole because you guys wanted Rory at 1.30, and it played so slow, we decided to have a 12-hole match.

"So Rickie and I played Rory and Andy Sullivan. Rickie and I came out on top in that one.

Rory McIlroy shows his frustration during his opening round at the US PGA in Baltusrol Picture: Getty
Rory McIlroy shows his frustration during his opening round at the US PGA in Baltusrol Picture: Getty

"Next day, played a nine-hole match. (Brandt) Snedeker and I played Rickie and Rory, and they clipped us.


"They clipped us and then we won the press. So it's kind of nice winning the last hole. Kind of makes lunch taste a little better and gives them a frown, so it's kind of fun," said Walker.

McIlroy left the course with a serious frown after his opening 74, which included 35 putts.

Walker could relax and enjoy his dinner knowing that his game is in the groove, as was evident from a card that showed six birdies and just one bogey.

He also knows how McIlroy feels about the cold putter as he went through a frustrating period of working hard without seeing the results in his scores.

"Sometimes it's hard, I'm not going to lie. It's tough. You feel like you're killing yourself and you're giving it all you've got and you're just not seeing it. Sometimes hard work doesn't pay off. But over time, it will, I think," he said.

Holder Jason Day played in McIlroy's group and made plenty of scoring opportunities before settling on 68, two-under par.

That represented a solid return, considering the Australian had limited practice due to his wife Ellie's allergic reaction to some food which required a visit to the local Emergency Room late on Monday night.

Day had also caught a bug from an illness which affected his children, Dash and Lucy, but he reckoned that might yet prove to be a blessing in disguise, given the intense heat in the New Jersey area this week.

"I'm pretty pleased, to be honest.

"By Thursday, if you practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you could be pretty tired with how hot it was. It was in the mid to high 90s. You can get pretty drained pretty quickly.

"I'm glad I took Monday, Tuesday off, even though I'm a little bit under the weather.

"It was kind of a blessing really to come out yesterday, play 18 holes real quick and then get out of here," he said.

A dedicated golfer, but also a dedicated family man, Day would not be deterred from having Ellie and the children with him on the Tour.

"I enjoy having my family on the road.

"It's not the first time that the kids and myself and Ellie have been sick. It's not going to be the last time. It's speed bumps that you have got to try and slow down and get around. Come out and execute," he said.

Day did that pretty well, basing his round on a conservative strategy.

"It's probably a little bit more conservative than I usually am, just only because I think with a Major championship, you have got to be patient, take your opportunities when you can, and work yourself up to the lead come Sunday.

"If you get off to a great start, great. If not, kind of chip away at it," he said.

Pádraig Harrington was drawn in an all-US PGA winners group with John Daly (1991) and Vijay Singh (1998 and 2004).

Harrington's 71, one-over par, looked a decent start in a Major, particularly after McIlroy's misfortune, but the Dubliner did not see it that way.

"I created a lot of chances, obviously there is nothing too easy out there. You're always a little bit wary on the greens and I didn't putt very well overall.

"I need to free up a bit on the greens," he said.

A birdie three on the par-four second gave Harrington a boost, but a double-bogey five on the signature, 196 yard, par-three fourth hole deflated him for a short while.

He took seven-iron, looking at a carry of 177 yards to clear the water comfortably, and got a bad break.

"On four, I hit it down the pin and I just didn't get enough of it. Another day that would have been stone dead, but it comes up short in the water. I then hit a nice pitch, it doesn't spin back. It was a five from nowhere," he said.

The key on Thursday is to make sure you don't shoot yourself out of the tournament, and in that respect, Harrington has now given himself a platform to move forward, despite his disappointment at not making more birdies. "I was hitting wedge into every hole so it feels like you should have done better," he said.

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke shot 74, the same score as McIlroy.

The big character of the week - literally - Andrew 'Beef' Johnston, kept a smile on his face as he posted a 70.

The big question for today is how much the adverse weather that has been forecast will affect the course and the scheduled tee-times. For McIlroy in particular, he needs to get the wind in his sails.

US PGA Championship, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.00pm

Irish Independent

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