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For Walker, the eyes have it

AP Photo
Jimmy Walker finished fourth in both of the first two Greenbrier Classics.

He has finished tied for fourth in both Greenbrier Classics. He shot a third-round 62 last year, a year when Old White TPC was no longer handing those out like coupons.

Yes, Jimmy Walker likes that course. And The Greenbrier resort, and everything else about the tournament.

Come next week, he'll be back in White Sulphur Springs, family in tow.

"I really enjoy the golf course," Walker said Tuesday as he was preparing for the AT&T National. "I think it's the whole thing at The Greenbrier - I really enjoy the hotel, the atmosphere, kind of getting out away from everything. I just had a great time there."

Seven out of eight rounds under par, a pair of $226,200 checks ... why wouldn't you have a good time?

It doesn't sound right to say the Oklahoma City native found "love at first sight" with Old White, but he got really comfortable with the course quickly at the 2010 Classic. The course was toughened for 2011, but for Walker, the comfort remained.

"It's hard to describe sometimes when a golf course fits your eye - a lot of shots where you can see the golf course for what it is, not a lot of shots that I don't like," Walker said. "It's an interesting feeling when you get a golf course where you can see it and you like it, and that's one of them. I really enjoy it. I think I had my best round on tour there last year."

That was the 8-under-par 62. After making the cut on the 1-over number, he needed a big round to get into contention, and took advantage of a morning tee time and several shortened holes.

Walker had seven birdies in 10 holes in one stretch, punctuated by a 21-foot putt on the par-4 16th. He hit all 18 greens in regulation and needed just 28 putts.

"My only regret was not birdieing No. 17, the par-5," he said. "And I had a good chance to, but it didn't work. And at 18 [the short par-3], I hit the flag and caromed off, and it would have been a lot closer to the flag. I think I would have stiffed it."

With that 17th hole shortened to 557 yards, his second shot flew over the green into the collection area, then misfired on a chip that stopped 33 feet short. The bounce off the flagstick at No. 18 left him 18 feet away.

In his final-round 68, an eagle on the par-5 12th dropped him to 9 under, one stroke short of what would be a magic minus-10. He settled for pars the rest of the way, with the 12-foot putt on No. 18 his closest birdie attempt.

If that had gone in, Walker would have made the three-way playoff a foursome.

"I had the same kind of break the year before, and I remember it breaking a little more," he said. "I put it out there, and it just didn't break as much last year. I think I hit a good putt last year; it just didn't go in."

That one stroke could have meant so much - a chance at $850,000 more and a two-year exemption, for starters. But his career illustrates how much sway a single stroke can have over a career.

In 2004, Walker became the second-youngest player to win the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year, doing so at age 25. A neck injury interrupted his PGA Tour rookie season, and he fell off the tour after 2006.

In 2007, one stroke helped him "regraduate" from the Nationwide (renamed the Web.com Tour on Wednesday), and that came in West Virginia. At the Pete Dye Classic in Bridgeport, Walker shot a 5-under 67 to rally from seven shots back to beat Justin Hicks and Matthew Jones by one.

How big was that stroke? As it turned out, Walker finished 25th on the Nationwide money list, grabbing the last golden ticket to the PGA Tour.

He struggled again in 2008, but stayed on the tour through "Q School" late that year. In 2009, he grabbed the 125th spot on the money list - the last to guarantee full membership in 2010 - on the 72nd hole of the final tournament. That wasn't routine, as he chipped within 5 feet and sank the par putt. He double-bogeyed the previous hole.

From there, Walker's play has improved. He rose to 103rd on the 2010 money list, 67th in 2011 and is currently 61st. After this weekend, he and wife Erin will drive from Bethesda, Md., to White Sulphur Springs, with 2-year-old Mclain James making his resort debut.

Bringing the family along for a luxurious weekend is the one of the Classic's classic pitches to the pros. You could say the resort fit Walker's eye.

"It's like a throwback to an era we're just not accustomed to anymore," Walker said. "Put the coat on to go to dinner - you just don't see that anywhere anymore, except maybe in a major city. It's got an old-school atmosphere, all the rooms are quirky with different wallpaper in every room, big, long corridors, lots of old paintings and lots of history.

"It's a cool spot."

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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