Walker captures first title


By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

SAN MARTIN, Calif. — Jimmy Walker’s first PGA Tour trophy came with a special gift tucked inside.

A yellow “Masters 2014” flag.

It was a not-so-subtle reminder that the Frys.com Open is no longer a Fall Series event for players to chase their tour cards at the end of the year, but the start of the PGA Tour’s new 2013-14 season that comes with all the perks.

And it was a reminder to Walker that he gets to go places where he always felt he belonged.

In his eighth season and his 188th tournament — and with a little help from 23-year-old Brooks Koepka — Walker won a back-nine duel Sunday by making a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole and closing with three pars for a 5-under 66. That was more than enough for the 34-year-old Texan to win by two shots.

“This was the final stepping stone,” said Walker, who has played on more tours than he can remember to get to the big leagues.

It turned out to be a learning experience for Koepka, who had a four-shot lead with 11 holes remaining until he began missing short putts, all of them to the left. It started with a 3-foot par putt that he missed on the ninth hole. The most significant was a 6-foot birdie attempt on the 15th hole that would have matched birdies with Walker in the group ahead and regained a share of the lead.

Koepka bogeyed the next two holes and closed with a 72 to tie for third.

“Things just weren’t going my way,” Koepka said. “I just didn’t make the shots I needed to win. Congrats to Jimmy on that. He played very well. But just try to learn from the whole experience. Any time you can put yourself in that kind of pressure, it’s always good. It you take something from it, that’s even better.”

Walker finished at 17-under 267 and cracked the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time.

Vijay Singh closed with a 68 and wound up with the 27th runner-up finish of his Hall of Fame career, and his best result since he sued the PGA Tour in May over its procedure in investigating Singh’s admission that he used deer antler spray.

Koepka tied for third with Kevin Na (64), Puerto Rico winner Scott Brown (64) and Hideki Matsuyama, the 21-year-old Japanese star who has joined the PGA Tour. Matsuyama, who played in the Presidents Cup last week, birdied his last three holes for a 66.

Along with the Masters, Walker also gets to go to Maui in January for the Tournament of Champions, another place he has never been, and he is assured a spot in the PGA Championship for only the fourth time in his career.

“I felt like I was good enough to be in them, play in them,” Walker said. “There’s always this big pressure to get into Augusta, and I would press here, press there. You want to be playing in the big stuff. That’s what I’m aspiring to do — play against the world’s best.”

It won’t be his first trip to Augusta National.

Club member Paul Sarvadi invited Walker and his father about five years ago, one of Walker’s favorite memories even in the chill of winter and a light rain. His father, a scratch golfer who once shot 60, birdied three of the par 5s. Walker shot 72 one day, and played the back nine in 35.

“A cool experience,” he called it.

Koepka was playing on a sponsor’s exemption that he received without asking. Tournament officials identified him as a potential star when he started the year with no status on any tour, and then won three times on the Challenge Tour to earn his European Tour card. He qualified for the British Open the day after his third Challenge Tour win.

LPGA MALAYSIA

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Lexi Thompson won the LPGA Malaysia by four strokes Sunday, giving the 18-year-old American her first victory of the season and second on the LPGA Tour.

“Words can’t even describe the feeling I have right now,” Thompson said.

Thompson finished at 19-under 265 at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. She also won the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic 2011 in Alabama.

“It’s sort of like a rerun from Navistar, just having that feeling walking up to the 18th green, embracing the fans and just knowing you have the win under your belt,” Thompson said. “It’s very big. I have worked so hard between this whole last year since Navistar. It pays off and means so much to me.”

Chinese star Shanshan Feng, the Reignwood LPGA Classic winner last week in China, was second after a 67. Second-ranked Suzann Pettersen (70) and Ilhee Lee (73) tied for third at 12 under.

SAS CHAMPIONSHIP

CARY, N.C. — Russ Cochran holed a 5-foot putt on the final hole for his fourth straight birdie and a one-stroke victory over David Frost in the SAS Championship.

The 54-year-old Cochran, also the 2010 winner at Prestonwood Country Club, closed with a 5-under 67 to finish at 17-under 199. The left-hander won the Principal Charity Classic in June in Iowa. He has five Champions Tour victories after winning once on the PGA Tour.

Frost finished with a 66. He missed a short birdie putt on No. 17 and also settled for par on 18.

Kirk Triplett was third at 14 under after a 68.

PORTUGAL MASTERS

VILAMOURA, Portugal — England’s David Lynn won the Portugal Masters for his second European Tour title, shooting an 8-under 63 to overcome a six-stroke deficit.

The 39-year-old Lynn finished at 18-under 266 at Oceanico Victoria. He also won the 2004 KLM Open.

England’s Paul Waring, the third-leader, had a 71 to finish a stroke back along with South Africa’s Stephen Gallacher (66) and Austria Bernd Wiesberger (67).

 

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