The Upshot: AT&T Pebble Beach, Saturday
February 08, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Jimmy Walker birdies No. 7 at AT&T Pebble Beach
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- When Jimmy Walker won his first PGA TOUR event in his 188th start last fall at the Frys.com Open, he came from three strokes off the pace in the final round. He made up two strokes on Sunday at the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this year to grab his second title.
Walker will be the hunted instead of the hunter on Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. But that six-stroke lead he owns is a pretty darn good cushion -- and Walker has been nearly flawless through 54 holes.
The Texan's 67 was the low round on a damp, blustery Saturday that saw winds gust to 36 mph and force a two-hour-and-20-minute delay when balls began to oscillate on several greens. Not that he minded the break, though -- Walker spent the time eating slices of Thai-and-chili and blue-cheese-and-fig pizza he called "amazing" that was cooking on a grill near the seventh hole at Monterey Peninsula.
No one else has shot three rounds in the 60s this week, and Walker's lead is the largest since 2005 when Phil Mickelson was up seven strokes on Greg Owen. He clearly has an affinity for the three courses in the rota with top-10 finishes each of the last three years.
"I played really solid today," Walker said. "I hit some really good shots into the wind, keeping it low, keeping it down. It played tough. Wind was really blowing out there, especially on the exposed holes at MPCC. ... It was pretty brutal, hitting 5-woods and 3-woods into 9 (and) it's only 190 yards.
"... I mean it was nuts. But I played solid, made some really good putts and a couple of birdies coming down the stretch."
The weather is expected to be challenging again on Sunday when the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain and winds in the 15-25 mph range. The 12 players who didn't finish their third rounds on Saturday will return at 7:30 a.m. PT and once they're done, the cut will be made and players re-paired for a final round at Pebble Beach that expected to kick off around 9 a.m. PT.
In a weird way, though, the challenges the weather may bring could work in Walker's favor on Sunday. Even with a six-stroke lead, Walker knows he needs all the focus he can muster as he battles the elements along with mastering his clubs.
"It just feels like a battle," Walker explained. "You're not battling really anyone else. You're not battling the field or a tournament. ... The golf course is trying to beat you up.
"I know when I made the turn, I felt like I needed to make some birdies on the downwind holes because I knew how tough the into-the-wind holes were going to be. I had heard horror stories of guys hitting driver into 9 and driver, driver, 3-iroin into a par 5. You don't see that very often."
NEW WORLD: Jimmy Walker is one of the nicest, most unassuming guys on the PGA TOUR.
His profile has gotten considerably higher this season, though, as the Texan has vaulted to the top of the FedExCup standings after winning twice in his first eight starts. The 35-year-old stands poised to add another on Sunday at Pebble Beach, too.
Walker says he has noticed more fans in his gallery this season. He's signing more autographs when he's done, too. Perhaps most gratifying, though, is the good-natured ribbing and sincere congratulations he gets from other players on TOUR.
"The peer recognition is really cool," Walker said with a smile. "Guys will come up and say, good job, save some for us, those kind of things. It's been nice."
Jimmy Walker is doing his best impersonation of Tiger Woods. Incredible golf so far in very tough conditions. So impressive.— Arron Oberholser (@ArronOberholser) February 9, 2014
GRIN AND BEAR IT: Tim Wilkinson decided the best way to combat Mother Nature on Saturday was to try to relax and enjoy himself.
"Just creating different shots and things like that, so yeah, it was fun," the Kiwi said.
And there were plenty of opportunities as Wilkinson tackled shots with yardages that he estimated he hadn't played in 15 or 16 years. But he handled the challenging conditions at Monterey Peninsula well, shooting a 69 that left him tied with Hunter Mahan for second, six strokes behind Jimmy Walker.
"I hit 3-wood on one hole, just chipped it along the ground from 177," said Wilkinson, whose best finish on TOUR is a tie for second at the 2008 Valero Texas Open. "It was blowing pretty hard out there. So the toughest thing was just the putting, a lot of it. Just crosswinds and gusting winds, it was especially before the delay, pretty difficult."
My 4 iron on 11 came up 20 yards short.. Too bad it was a 170 yard par 3. Wonder what the longest club hit on 7 at pebble was today. 6? 5?— Bobby Gates (@BobbyGatesGolf) February 8, 2014
HORROR STORY: Blake Adams was on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach when the worst of wind -- which he called a "melee" was whipping off the bay.
Not coincidentally, he ended up four-putting that hole from 18 feet. Adams then had an adventurous run of birdie-bogey-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie over his next seven holes, too.
"It was very, very tough out there," Adams said. "Even par is nothing to frown about. We'll just try it again tomorrow."
Adams has a 54-hole total of 5 under and is tied for fifth, eight strokes behind Jimmy Walker.
CALL OF THE DAY: Mark Carnevale from PGA TOUR Radio on SirusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls NFL quarterback Tom Brady's eagle on No. 2 Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Live play-by-play coverage of the final round streams from 1-7 p.m. ET on PGATOUR.COM.