Jimmy Walker was a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, but lately his game had wilted.
The 37-year-old Walker, who claimed all of this five victories on the circuit in the previous two seasons, shot 5-under-par 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, Ross Fisher of England and Martin Kaymer of Germany after one round of the 98th PGA Championship on the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
“There were shades of (2013-14) for sure,” said Walker, who won three times during that season, but has not played well since claiming two more victories last season. “Just a lot of even par to a couple under golf, and it’s equated to a bunch of 20th place finishes this year.
“It’s just been real stale and stagnant. It’s just the ebbs and flows of golf. Just haven’t been scoring. Haven’t been making the 10- to 15-, 18-footers you need to make to start running up the leaderboard and to have high finishes.
“The last round in Canada (a 68 to tie for 14th last week) felt great. I felt like coming down the stretch on Sunday … I did a lot of things right. … So I felt like I was ready to go. I honestly did this week.
“I definitely want to play Ryder Cup this year, so solid play at the end of the year could get you the nod.”
Walker, whose best result in a major was a tie for seventh in the PGA two years ago at Valhalla, started on the back nine and carded four birdies in six holes through No. 18 and birdied the first and seventh holes coming home, making his only bogey at No. 7.
Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, had four birdies in five holes in the middle of his 66, while Grillo had two late birdies and Fisher birdied the last two holes as they also shot 66.
“I just didn’t miss many fairways and therefore, you can create some birdie chances,” said Kaymer, who also won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Henrik Stenson, who became the first Swedish man to win a golf major two weeks ago at Royal Troon, birdied three of the last seven holes for a 68 to tie for fifth with James Hahn of Alameda and Cal, who birdied three of his last five, Harris English, who finished with a birdie at No. 9, and Andy Sullivan of England, who birdied three of the last four.
Top-ranked Jason Day of Australia, the defending champion, posted a 68 and was tied for ninth Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, K.J. Choi of South Korea, Scott Hend, David Lingmerth of Sweden, Brooks Koepka, Robert Streb, Vaughn Taylor, John Sendon of Australia, Russell Henley, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, who won the RBC Canadian Open last week.
Third-ranked Jordan Spieth was tied for 36th after a 70, while Phil Mickelson, who won the PGA at Baltusrol in 2005, rallied with three late birdies to shoot 71 and was in a tie for 55th that included Masters champion Danny Willett of England and sixth-ranked Bubba Watson.
Fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy, the 2012 and 2014 PGA champion, did not have a birdie in a 74 and was tied for 120th, while Dustin Johnson, the U.S. Open champion and No. 2 player in the world, struggled to a 77.