HONOLULU (AP) Jimmy Walker is trying to join some exclusive company at the Sony Open.
In his lifetime – Walker turns 37 on Saturday – only four players have won the same PGA Tour event three times in a row. Tom Watson did it at the Byron Nelson Classic. Stuart Appleby did it at Kapalua. Steve Stricker won three in a row at the John Deere Classic. Tiger Woods did it on six occasions.
Walker gets his shot at Waialae Country Club when the Sony Open starts on Thursday.
He won in 2014 by pulling away from the pack with a brilliant putting performance on the back nine and closing with a 63. He defended his title last year by setting the tournament record with a nine-shot victory thanks to his 62-63 weekend.
Walker doesn’t expect it to get any easier.
”It’s going to be even more of a challenge,” he said. ”I saw something the other day about the list of people that have won an event three times in a row, and it’s small. There’s some really good names on it. … It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win two in a row, let alone three times in a row.”
The field is not quite as strong this year – no one from the top 10 in the world, with Adam Scott at No. 11 the highest-ranked player.
That doesn’t mean it will be any easier when the first full-field event of the year gets underway:
WALKER’S QUEST: Walker once won four straight tournaments, but that was long ago.
”I won my 4A regional golf tournament (in Texas) four years in a row, freshman through senior,” he said.
His putting stood out the last two years, particularly in 2014 when he made four straight putts through the 17th hole to seize control. Walker, however, believes his driving was equally responsible. Power isn’t an issue. Accuracy can be, and he was dialed in for the tight, tree- and water-lined fairways.
Walker has been working on a new swing move with Butch Harmon since November and appears to be making fast strides. He tied for 10th last week at Kapalua.
HISTORY LESSON: Ernie Els was the last player who had a chance to win three straight at Waialae, and he nearly did.
Els won on the second hole of a playoff in 2003 with a 55-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 10th hole. A year later, he lost a two-shot lead with five holes to play and then beat Harrison Frazar with a 30-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole.
Going for three in a row, he closed with a 62 and it looked like it might be enough for another playoff until Vijay Singh birdied the par-5 18th for the victory.
STRICKER STARTS: This is the third year for the PGA Tour starting a new season in October, so even with a six-week break, players have to be reminded that this is the new ”year” and not the new ”season.”
Unless the player is Steve Stricker.
Stricker hasn’t played since the PGA Championship in August. Coming off back surgery on Christmas Eve in 2014, he wanted to take it easy last year. He played nine times, and didn’t play all that well, so he didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. And he rarely plays in the fall because the kids are in school and it’s hunting season.
But the 48-year-old Stricker feels rejuvenated. He plans to play a little more this year, and winning is his priority.
WEEK OFF: All six players from the top 10 in Maui did not make the trip to Honolulu. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler leave this weekend for Abu Dhabi. Bill Haas is defending his title next week in the California desert. Jason Day won’t play again until he defends at Torrey Pines. Brooks Koepka won’t play again until he defends in Phoenix.
The PGA Tour tries to persuade players at Kapalua to stay another week in Hawaii.
It’s rare to get so many top players missing, which could be a product of the wraparound season or the packed summer schedule due to the Olympics.
ALLENBY’S BACK: Robert Allenby is trying to make this week as positive as possible. He chose to return to the Sony Open, where he made sensational headlines last year for a Facebook posting of his bloodied forehead and bruised eye socket from … well, he’s still not sure. Allenby said he had total memory loss from about a three-hour window after he left Amuse Wine Bar the night he missed the cut.
He wanted to come back to bury a bad memory. And while he has missed the cut four of the last five times at the Sony Open, he chose to recall 2010 when he finished second by one shot. Whether he misses the cut or plays well, Allenby feels he will have accomplished his goal of closure from a most bizarre incident.