Aug. 27, 2007
BRIDGEPORT, W.V. - -
Someone forgot to tell Jimmy Walker that the National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic presented by Northrop Grumman supposedly ended on Saturday.
Trailing by seven strokes to Parker McLachlin at the beginning of the day - which tied the Nationwide Tour record for largest lead entering any round - Walker was simply dynamite on Sunday, firing a 5-under 67 to wipe out the deficit and prevail by one stroke over hard-charging Justin Hicks (64) and Matthew Jones (68).
McLachlin (77) struggled mightily on the opening nine holes and finished in a disappointing tie for fourth place with Tom Carter (67) on what will go down as one of the wildest final days in Tour history.
"This feels amazing," said Walker, who ended the day with six birdies and just one bogey. "It feels so good to win again. I didn't have a number in mind today. All I could do was play as well as possible and let the chips fall where they may."
Walker chiseled into McLachlin's lead early and often with birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 7 and 8. Meanwhile, McLachlin was going in the other direction with bogeys on Nos. 3, 5 and 7. The lead vanished for good when the 54-hole leader recorded a double bogey on the par-4 eighth hole, which coupled with Walker's birdie resulted in McLachlin's name not sitting at the top of the leaderboard for the first time all week. Walker added birdies on Nos. 11 and 17, and then turned in an all-world up-and-down from off the green to secure the one-stroke victory.
"You hated to see it happen, but the bogeys kept coming for Parker," said Walker, who hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation. "I was closing the gap. I made the birdie on No. 7 and that was the turning point. I knew it could happen at that point. The chip on the last hole was huge ... and tough, too. I left myself one of those five-footers that no one wants to have."
A three-day total of 17-under showed that McLachlin had been spectacular the first three days, but to Walker's credit he played steady golf all four days with rounds of 68-70-68-67. More importantly, the former All-American for Baylor University never gave up.
"I just tried to stay as patient as possible and hang in there the best I could this week," said Walker. "I had not played four solid rounds all year. It feels good to finally put four solid rounds together."
Making huge Sunday comebacks is nothing new for Walker. He stormed back from eight down on the final day to win the 2004 Chitimacha Louisiana Open, representing the third largest come-from-behind win in Tour history.
"You just have to go out there with the mindset that you need to play your own game and not worry about the competition," said the 28-year-old resident of San Antonio, TX. "I was able to do that today."
The victory brings the 2004 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year full circle since leading the money list that same season. Eager to begin his rookie season on the PGA TOUR in 2005, Walker injured his neck on the driving range at the Sony Open in Hawaii, forcing his withdrawal from the tournament and an ensuing two-year struggle that is just now coming to an end. After finishing 207th and 202nd, respectively, on the PGA TOUR money list the last two years, Walker has seen a revival in his game this year, making 16 of 21 cuts and tallying seven top-25 finishes.
"I went from the highest of highs when I won Player of the Year to the lowest of lows," said Walker, who also won in 2004 at the BellSouth Panama Championship. "It feels so good to see the hard work paying off. I kept telling myself it was going to pay off eventually. It has been tough on me and my family since I got hurt and this win is for all of them. Winning is so important for all of us on so many levels."
The $108,000 first-place prize is also important for Walker as he moves from No. 62 to No. 16 on the official money list with $177,663. His meteoric rise into "THE 25" bumps him off of one of the Tour's bubbles, as the top 60 players make it to the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Barona Creek.
"It still hasn't sunk in," said Walker. "It means I have security for the next four or five years, which is huge. It also feels good to be back in that top 25 and that is the most important thing on the Nationwide Tour."
While disappointed, all McLachlin could do was marvel at Walker's play during the nine-stroke turnaround on the first eight holes. To his credit, the former UCLA Bruin and current PGA TOUR rookie never gave up and even eagled the par-5 17th hole to move into the top five.
"It just kind of snowballed and I couldn't stop it," said McLachlin. "I was in a nightmare. I shouldn't have let circumstances dictate how I played the course. I played passive and was trying to protect the lead when I should have been attacking the course like I did the first three days. But give all the credit to Jimmy. He played a great front nine and put together a really solid round of golf."
Largest Come-From-Behind Victories in Nationwide Tour History
10 - John Flannery, 1991 Reno Open
10 - Gary Hallberg, 2001 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic
9 - Jim Rutledge, 2006 ING New Zealand PGA Championship
8 - Stan Utley, 1995 Louisiana Open
8 - Jimmy Walker, 2004 Chitimacha Louisiana Open
7 - Nick Flanagan, 2007 Xerox Classic
7 - Jimmy Walker, 2007 National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic