SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Do you believe in miracles?
We’re about a four-hour drive south of Lake Placid, but this was the Miracle in Mud. The PGA Championship finished on schedule on Sunday at Baltusrol’s Lower Course, with Jimmy Walker picking up his first major title with a one-shot win over Jason Day concluding a 36-hole marathon for Nos. 1 and 2 on the final leaderboard.
At the start of the week, no one, maybe including Walker himself, could have seen him holding the Wanamaker. At the start of Sunday, few probably expected that anyone would hold the Wanamaker at the end of the day.
After a steady, strong rain forced the suspension of play at 2:14 p.m. on Saturday, there was a lot of muttering from players and media, wondering if and when play would be called. Some four hours later, the PGA of America made the decision to suspend play. Amid scoffing that officials hadn’t anticipated the weather and didn’t send the 86-player weekend field out in threesomes off two tees in that morning, PGA of America Championships Officer Kerry Haigh revealed the PGA would wrap up in what amounted to a 36-hole shotgun start. The players that had started Round 3 would resume play at 7 a.m., the 10 players who hadn’t teed off yet would and Round 4 would begin, without repairing, right at 8:40 a.m. And it would all finish fine.
It was hard not to laugh at that notion. The overnight weather forecast looked dubious for even starting Sunday golf as planned. Things looked worse for the day on Sunday.
And, as most of us slept, a crazy thing happened: The rain quelled and Baltusrol’s outstanding grounds crew got to work. The crew did an amazing job, moving water as best they could from fairways and greens, raking bunkers to look Thursday morning fresh and turning around on a storm that would’ve knocked most tournaments and venues out.
Then a routine thing happened: The weather forecast proved wrong. That’s not an indictment of meteorologists, either. It rained, yes, but not hard enough to stop play. The radar showed cells of rain breaking apart, avoiding Baltusrol. And then the rain gave way to modest sunshine, the light in the end of this championship tunnel.
It was right about at that point that Walker holed out for birdie from the greenside bunker on No. 10. Then Jason Day birdied the 11th. Walker cut him with a bomb on the 11th, too. We flipped from the Weather Channel to the PGA Championship, and it was great. Martin Kaymer primed the finish with an eagle on the par-5 18th, exciting the loyal, gritty crowd that showed up for a major finish in a big way.
Then Day hit a pair of long irons on No. 18 to set up a Big Boy eagle that turned the PGA Championship up from a 4 to a 10. As Day found the green in 2 at the last, Walker found the low-side door with his birdie putt at No. 17. Then Walker made bit of a mess with his 3-wood second shot to set up a little drama on what turned to a rudimentary par that locked up the title.
It was perhaps the slowest build to a major we’ll ever experience, but it was worth the wait.
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