Is Jimmy Walker a Major Contender After Pebble Beach Win, Red-Hot 2013-14 Start?

Mike DudurichContributor IFebruary 10, 2014

Jimmy Walker shows the smile of a three-time PGA Tour winner in 2013-14.
Jimmy Walker shows the smile of a three-time PGA Tour winner in 2013-14.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Guys with the name Jimmy Walker have starred in a television sitcom and played professional basketball, but one currently plays professional golf.

Of those three, only one has ever been referred to as Kid Dyn-o-mite, the star of a 1970s television sitcom, Good Times.

The basketball player retired in the mid-1970s after a nine-year career in the NBA.

The golfer is in the prime of what might be considered an average career, but over the last few months, he has suddenly become the hottest golfer on the PGA Tour.

Since October, this 35-year-old Texan has won three times—the first three victories of his PGA Tour career. He's been making appearances on the PGA Tour since 2001, but he started playing regularly in 2005.

While he's rarely been seen near the top of leaderboards, Walker has earned over $10 million.

Jimmy Walker tries to urge in a putt Sunday.
Jimmy Walker tries to urge in a putt Sunday.Eric Risberg/Associated Press/Associated Press

He was named the Player of the Year on the Tour in 2004 after winning three times that year.

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Two questions appear to be on the table at this point: 1) How does a man start 187 times on the PGA Tour without winning and then win three times in his next eight starts? and 2) What does this mean for a guy who at 35 is hitting it as long off the tee as players 15 years younger?

The easy answer is that Walker is a late bloomer. He's not the only player to go a long time before figuring out how to win. It actually says more about the quality and the depth of the quality that exists today on the PGA Tour.

The fact that Walker has won three times in a season after going winless before puts him in some serious company. As a matter of fact, he's only the fifth player to ever do so since 1970. Even better, he joins Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players to win three times in at least the first eight events of a season.

With the momentum gained by winning the Open in October, Walker has slingshotted his way around the PGA Tour's wraparound schedule. And while the Ryder Cup isn't until September, these three wins have boosted him to the top of the points standings for the U.S. team.

That makes him a highly unlikely leader but certainly not a lock to make the team. The Ryder Cup standings are built on PGA Tour earnings, and with four majors, which earn double points, three World Golf Championships and the Players Championships still on the schedule, Walker could get passed quickly if he doesn't perform well this summer.

Talk abut a rags-to-riches story.

But this is where the answer to question No. 2 comes in. For him to be on that charter to Gleneagles in Scotland this fall, he'll have to do something other than show up and hope for the best between now and then.

Truth be told, he could not play another hole and will have had a great year. Three wins? We do remember that Woods won five last year, and that was considered a great year, right?

He came from behind in his first two wins, but he brought a six-shot lead to Pebble Beach Sunday morning. That disappeared a lot more quickly than Walker would have cared for, thanks in part to a pair of three-putts on the back nine.

Walker's final round of 74 was his first round of the week not in the 60s.

He made five bogeys on the day but was able to offset three of those with birdies.

He showed some nerves on the 18th hole Sunday, ramming a birdie putt five feet past the hole. Had he missed that coming back, he'd have gone into a playoff with Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner.

During his interview with CBS-TV, Walker had a simple explanation. "It's drama, man. It was too much for me.''

He was kidding basically, but that might give a glimpse into how the rest of Walker's season might be. Walker is going to be playing in bigger events now—major championships, World Golf Championship events.

As the months roll by, the heat will increase on the hottest player in the game. And in this case, it won't have anything to do with the weather.