Tour Confidential: Walker’s Major Win, The Big Three’s Major Bust

August 1, 2016

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation on social media by tweeting @golf_com.

1.) Jimmy Walker overcame word No. 1 Jason Day, British Open champion Henrik Stenson and two days of stops-and-starts at water-logged Baltusrol to prevail at the PGA Championship. What impressed you most about how the 37-year-old won his first major title?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: How he made it look like an ordinary Tour event, even when it wasn’t. Like on 17 and 18 on Sunday.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): JW did it the old-fashioned, Steady-Eddy way, fairways and greens, better than anyone else. When your worst score is 68, you played golf.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): He never blinked, even as the world No. 1 player kept the heat on him playing in the group in front.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I’m impressed that Walker was able to hold it together given his lackluster results this year. He’d missed four cuts in his last eight starts. His last top 10 was at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral. He couldn’t have been overflowing with confidence, but he was still able to close in the heat. Impressive.

Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor, (@Jess_Marksbury): Totally agree, Cam. A wire-to-wire win is always impressive, especially when it’s your first major win ever! We started expecting greatness from Jimmy in 2014, when he had three wins and top-tenned in three of the four majors that year, but he’s been a bit of a dark horse since then. We should have known he had grit, though. It was less than a year and a half ago that he held off a charging Jordan Spieth to win the Valero Texas Open, his hometown event.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I was impressed at how, out of nowhere, he reignited his flatstick, which was the key to his rise in ‘14-’15. He made a ton of great putts this week. None bigger than the birdie that stayed just inside the lip on 17 and the 2-foot, 11-inch knee-knocker on 18 to close it.

2.) On a rainy Saturday at Baltusrol, the PGA of America brought the possibility of a Monday finish very much into play by declining to send players off two tees. In the fourth round, PGA officials elected to institute lift, clean and place, for the first time in tournament history. What did you make of these decisions?

VAN SICKLE: It turned out better than expected, really, but for once the PGA of America left itself some margin of error. Purists will be horrified, but modern golf is a TV show. It’s all about that.

GODICH: The lift, clean and place seemed unavoidable, but the PGA dodged a bullet. Going to double tees on Saturday would have allowed for repairing in the final round. Officials were fortunate to get the finish they did and not having to crown a champion who won while sitting in the clubhouse for a couple of hours.

MORFIT: The PGA of America got lucky with the weather Sunday and unlucky on Saturday. Should they have played two tees Saturday morning to try and get it in? Yes, but that’s easy to say now. No one accurately predicts the weather, not even the people who get paid to do so.

BAMBERGER: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. They got lucky, big-time.

MARKSBURY: I’m not offended by lift, clean and place. You still have to hit the fairway.

RITTER: Right, Jess. Day’s two-iron approach shot on 18 from 258 yards was incredible, and nothing about that highlight will be diminished by lift, clean and place. But a Monday finish, or a winner that wrapped up Sunday at three o’clock in the afternoon, would’ve always been remembered as awkward and avoidable.

3.) After all the buzz around the Big Three in 2015, this year has produced four first-time major winners in Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and now Walker. Have we put too much stock in Jordan, Jason and Rory?

VAN SICKLE: Yes. The Big Three are no more. There’s Jason Day on the top shelf, then DJ and Spieth on the second shelf. Rory and the rest have to prove themselves again. If I see another Big Four reference, I’m going to revoke that person’s golf-writing privileges.

GODICH: I’d go 1 and 1A, Gary. Day is The Man, but he was a non-factor in the first three majors. DJ will be Player of the Year, and for all of his troubles, Spieth has won twice and was maybe one bad swing from winning his third major. Trying to come up with another name to get to a Big Four just to dare you. Alas …

BAMBERGER: The Big Three was a branding exercise to promote … Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. There was never a modern Big Three, just three guys who got hot at the some time for a brief while.

RITTER: They entered the season ranked 1-2-3, so they had resumes to back up the hype. But the conversation certainly changed this year. Day has become the alpha, Jordan is a half-peg below, and Rory, strangely, is drifting.

MORFIT: This season has been very odd, and I think it goes back to the Olympics fouling everything up. Rory was in a no-win situation from the start as far as which flag he would play for, and then he struggled with the decision to bow out and said some things he probably shouldn’t have. That takes a psychological toll. Things will go back to normal in 2017, so maybe McIlroy will get back to being McIlroy again, and maybe Spieth will get back to his old self in the majors, too.

MARKSBURY: Our expectations for the Big Three are a product of what Tiger did in his heyday. As the No. 1 player in the world for so long, we always looked forward to his major performances because he always seemed to find a way to be in the mix. Maybe it’s unrealistic to have those expectations for players like Jason, Jordan and Rory, but we can’t help ourselves. It was nice to see Jason finally make things exciting on Sunday. That’s exactly what we want from our world No. 1!

4.) Day came up just short at the PGA but won the Players, WGC-Match Play and at Bay Hill, while U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone winner Dustin Johnson missed the cut at Baltusrol. If the season ended today, who is your player of the year?

VAN SICKLE: Tough vote. I’m going with Day even though he is major-less. He won The Players and snagged a couple of others and played the best golf start to finish. But I could be talked out of it.

RITTER: I think DJ overcame the most adversity to win his major (Thanks, USGA, for swaying my POY vote!) and he played the most consistent golf. But it’s close. Day could steal it over these next six weeks.

MORFIT: Dustin Johnson gets the nod because he won the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone in back-to-back starts, and has had eight other top-five finishes, which is pretty amazing.

GODICH: Exactly, Cam. And let’s not forget that DJ chased down Day at Bridgestone.

MARKSBURY: I’m leaning toward Day. Yes, DJ overcame a lot this year, and his U.S. Open win was impressive, but Jason is leading in the FedEx Cup points race at the moment. Isn’t that supposed to be the ultimate measure of who is having the best season?

BAMBERGER: Dustin Johnson.

5.) Of players outside the top eight on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, whose play in the season’s final major most convinced you that he belongs on the U.S. squad at Hazeltine in two months?

VAN SICKLE: Well, um, Jimmy Walker. He was one of the few bright spots at Gleneagles. He hits it straight and he makes putts. The U.S. has enough ball-hitters. They need more clutch putters. Ask me for a second pick and, uh-oh, there isn’t one.

MORFIT: I just heard Walker is going to move to fourth in RC standings, so he’s punched his ticket to Hazeltine, and deservedly so. Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed were not in the top eight coming into this PGA, and I think both need to be on the team.

GODICH: I’ll take Reed. He showed flashes at Troon and again at Baltusrol, and you can’t discount how he performed at the 2014 Ryder Cup.

MARKSBURY: Yes, Mark! Patrick Reed for the win! He’s such a formidable competitor in match play. I’m glad he seems to be rounding into form at the right time.

BAMBERGER: Nobody. Walker, I guess.

RITTER: Walker had 2’11” to win his first major and drilled it dead center. He’s on the team.

6.) The first round of the 2017 Masters is only 249 days away. Who’s your favorite?

VAN SICKLE: Jason Day is the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. His best looks better than anyone else’s best. It’s that simple. What could possibly change in the next nine months?

BAMBERGER: Rory, tanned, rested and ready — and recharged.

GODICH: We were saying the same thing about Day at this time last year, Gary. Rory? C’mon, Michael. How is he going to navigate those greens? Spieth will be tanned, rested and ready — and recharged. We’ll all be talking about how close he came to winning three consecutive green jackets.

MORFIT: Just got out of Day’s press conference and he said he’s already looking forward to the Masters. Perfect course for him, and he keeps showing us he’s No. 1 for a reason.

RITTER: I’d probably choose Day, but we also don’t want to forget about Bubba. He may never factor in a major off Magnolia Lane, but Augusta National is still his playground.

MARKSBURY: Phil is always a favorite at the Masters, but you can’t deny Jason’s game at the moment. He’ll be a favorite for sure. Jimmy Walker also told me in a recent interview that he really liked his chances at Augusta. Maybe being a newly minted major winner will give him the extra boost he needs to be a factor next year.