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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Jimmy Walker on the fast track, but still hurdles in front of him

Posted: 02/10/2014 8:03 PM | Comments: 0

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The brightest lights that interest Jimmy Walker are found in another galaxy through his high-powered telescope.

He goes to Las Vegas strictly for work.

"I've probably spent more time with him than anyone else the last two years," instructor Butch Harmon said on Sunday after watching Walker win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for his third win of a U.S. PGA Tour season that is only four months old.

"He's not a big party guy. He's not a big gambling guy," Harmon said. "He comes to Vegas a lot, and he comes to work. He has a lot of talent, a good demeanour. I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with this guy."

It will take a few more months to learn how big this iceberg might be.

Winning on the tour has never been more difficult than it is now, which makes Walker's start even more remarkable. Three wins is a great season for anyone not named Tiger Woods, and Walker has achieved that in only eight starts.

Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval — the best three Americans of their generation — are the only other players in the last 20 years to have won three times in eight tournaments to start a season. Woods has done it eight times (and still might this year).

Beyond the trophies are the different circumstances for each victory.

Walker was steady in the final hour of the Frys.com Open four months ago, making birdie on a par 5 and closing with three pars for a 66 to take advantage of the late blunders by Brooks Koepka. Last month at the Sony Open, a tournament that any of a dozen players could have won on the back nine, Walker pulled away with three straight birdies for a 7-under 63 and a one-shot win.

Pebble Beach might have been the toughest. He had a six-shot lead going into the final round. Woods, an exception in just about every category throughout his career, is about the only person who looks comfortable with a big lead. Walker couldn't remember having a lead like that even as a junior golfer.

Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner at Pebble Beach, closed with a 66 despite making three bogeys. Jim Renner shot 31 on the back nine. They finished second — barely.

Walker looked solid through nine holes, had a five-shot lead at the turn, yet had to make a 5-footer for par on the 18th for a 74 and a one-shot victory.

"I'm going to put some good stuff in the memory bank of having a big lead and what to do with that, how to deal with that," Walker said. "I played really well the last three days and ... I really just wanted to finish it off. And we did."

Harmon could see Walker become tentative with his putting stroke, and that's what made it close.

"It's very difficult to have a big lead," Harmon said. "He's never had one. He's never known how to act. I'm proud of him. This will help him in major championships when he gets in that position."

Walker sought out Harmon two years ago at a time when Harmon was looking to scale back his stable. This does not sound like a big project. Harmon could see that Walker had power in his swing and steady hands on the putter.

"He has an old-school swing with a lot of knee drive in general," Harmon said. "He had a narrow, long backswing, and when he transferred his weight the club would get behind him. We put some width in his swing. But he's worked hard on all aspects of his game."

The test for Walker comes later, and that will be the measure.

Walker went up to No. 24 in the world on Monday, a number that would be a little higher except for the strength of the fields he beat. He has played only one World Golf Championship (last year in Shanghai). He has never played more than two majors in a year, and he has made the cut in a major only twice.

Then again, those three wins were not an accident. Winning is hard. After going 187 events without winning, Walker looks comfortable doing it.

"I just go out and play golf," Walker said. "This is what I want to do and I've worked really hard to do it, to be here. And to be in this position and it's really cool."

Cool as an iceberg.

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