As title defences go, Jason Day’s couldn’t have been much braver – or gone much longer.
But despite an eagle on the last hole, the world No.1 had to cede the Wanamaker Trophy today to Jimmy Walker, who held his nerve on the final green to win his first major championship by a single stroke.
After looking home and dry for much of the afternoon, Walker clearly felt the nerves when Day’s eagle putt dropped on the 72nd hole, pulling the Australian within one.
Walker blocked his approach shot to the par-five right and had three shots from the rough right of the green to win the US PGA Championship.
And even then, Walker took it to the last possible second with a rock-solid par putt from just inside 1m in fading light to end a marathon final day of 36 holes.
“I was thinking up 17 that if I could make that (birdie), we’d put it out (of Day’s reach),” Walker said.
“We made the birdie, but sometimes things don’t come easy.
“Golf is not an easy game and Jason is a true champion and I wouldn’t expect anything less than an eagle at the last – it’s unreal.
“It really put it on me to make a par and sometimes pars are hard, but we got it.”
Walker admitted to a bout of nerves.
“There’s a lot of emotion going on out there, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
“It was a battle all day.”
Walker was far from imperious, but played blemish-free golf for a 67 to salute by one at 14 under on Baltusrol’s famous Lower Course.
He became the fifth consecutive first-time winner of a major championship, a run beginning with Day at Whistling Straits last year.
For much of the first two hours of the leaders’ final rounds, there seemed many contenders with no discernible momentum.
Day had overcome a couple of early wayward drives that cost him bogeys to pull back within one of third-round leader Walker.
But in a matter of minutes, the Texan holed out from the greenside sand on the 10th, rolled in another birdie from long range on the 11th and watched as all bar Day fell away.
Open Championship hero Henrik Stenson double-bogeyed the 15th and Brooks Koepka folded after tree trouble on the 11th.
So it was left to Day to keep the heat on the veteran American and he managed to do so with a birdie on the 11th.
But from then, Walker and Day traded pars as the Aussie simply couldn’t dial in his approach shots to realistic birdie range, with his average try more than 13m through the first seven holes on the back side.
The title still didn’t have a realistic home until Day couldn’t make birdie from 4m on the 17th, then Walker went one better from 3m minutes later with a putt that leaked in on the right side at the perfect pace.
Day made one last bold run for glory with a rifled approach from 235m to within 4m for eagle on the last hole and turned up the heat with a perfect putt that sent Walker’s mind into overdrive after he’d taken an iron for safety off the tee.
Unexpectedly, he went for the green and blocked it well right into rough between greenside bunkers and the 18th grandstand, sending a hope through the Aussie’s camp.
But Walker calmly took a big number out of play by flopping to 10m and then using both of his available putts to salute.
Of the other Aussies, Adam Scott looked as though he might make a run when he holed out for eagle on the eighth. But the world No.8 couldn’t maintain the rage on the back side with nine straight pars to finish with a 71 at five under.
On the same number was fellow Queenslander John Senden who made a birdie on the 17th hole to close a consistent week with a 68 to finish T18.
Rio-bound Scott Hend had his share of chances and closed with a birdie, but couldn’t find the magic to make a run and finished with a 72 at two under overall.
One who did get the red numbers flying on the back nine was Victorian Aaron Baddeley on his major championship return after his recent US PGA Tour victory.
Baddeley had been burning money when he was three over through seven holes, but played the last 11 in five under to charge home in 32 for a 70 to finish T49.
Marc Leishman was unusually birdie-free in his 74 to finish one over, while Marcus Fraser and Matt Jones each carded 73s to finish four and five over, respectively.