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Jimmy Walker turning winning into a habit

Monday - 2/10/2014, 10:10am  ET

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Jimmy Walker's future is looking brighter than the constellations he captures on his telescope.

His one-shot victory Sunday at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was his third win of the season. Over the last 20 years, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval have won three times in eight attempts at the start of a PGA Tour season.

Walker moved up to No. 24 in the world and will play all four majors for the first time in his career. Until now, he had never played more than two in one year. And while it's only February, the 35-year-old Texan is close to securing a spot on his first Ryder Cup team.

What really gets him excited might explain why he is playing so well.

Walker is looking forward to the Northern Trust Open, which starts in four days at Riviera, his favorite tournament of the year.

"I love the golf course, and I've had good success there," he said. "I'll enjoy tonight, and then it's time to refocus and reset everything, because we've got a whole new look next week. And it looks like the long-range forecast looks good for nice weather, and it's always nice to play Riviera when it's nice."

Walker isn't getting too far ahead of himself. He's not looking too far behind.

He found the winning formula four months ago about an hour away at the Frys.com Open when he won for the first time. Now he can't seem to lose.

Not that he didn't try at Pebble Beach.

Walker had a six-shot lead going into the final round, and he was still five shots clear at the turn on a cool, cloudy afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula. Not many could have imagined that it would take a 5-foot par putt on the final hole at Pebble Beach for Walker to secure a one-shot victory over Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner.

A tough chip on No. 12 that led to bogey. A three-putt bogey on the 13th. A three-putt bogey on the 17th.

Walker tried to play it safe down the par-5 18th, knowing he only needed a par to win. He smashed a 4-iron through the fairway and into the rough, though he recovered easily enough and had two putts from 25 feet to win.

He was on the verge of joining a group that included Woods, Mickelson and Duval, the top three Americans over the last 20 years. He nearly joined Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia, both of whom have lost six-shot leads in the final round.

"The best stroke of the back nine, really," Walker said of his par putt.

It gave him a 2-over 74, matching the highest closing round by a Pebble Beach winner over the last 20 years. He's in good company there, too. Johnny Miller did it in 1994 and Dustin Johnson in 2010 (as did Graeme McDowell when he won the U.S. Open as a par 71).

Johnson closed with a 66, despite three bogeys on his card and a missed 5-footer for birdie on the 14th.

"Jimmy is playing very well right now," Johnson said after he finished. "I think it's going to be tough for him to come back. I see him getting a victory today."

Renner made five birdies on the back nine for a 67. He would have loved a chance in a playoff, but was quite pleased with the consolation. Having missed all four cuts this year, with starts hard to find considering his low-ranking status, this sets him up well for the rest of the year.

"It was pretty big," Renner said. "I just knew I needed a good week. My back was up against the wall, and that's something I'm familiar with and I don't mind it. But I'm happy that I freed myself up a little bit for the rest of the year."

So is Walker, who can't explain what he's going through right now.

"We've always known how good he is," said Butch Harmon, who began working with Walker two years ago. "You have to believe in yourself, and once he got a win, he believed he's as good as we've all been trying to tell him. And he's taking it to a new level."

Jordan Spieth, undone by a 78 in the vicious wind of Pebble Beach on Saturday, fired back with a 67 on Sunday to tie for fourth with Kevin Na (69). Hunter Mahan (72) was fifth, while McDowell (67) was in the group that was five shots behind.

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