AUGUSTA, Ga. » Jimmy Walker was in bed Sunday night, right across the street from Augusta National, and was more nervous than he was standing over a 5-foot par putt to secure a win at Pebble Beach.
All week, golf instructor Butch Harmon kept reminding Walker to treat his first time through at the Masters as just another event, but the 35-year-old Sony Open in Hawaii champion was a long way from Waialae Country Club.
"I’m laying in bed and I’m ready to go," Walker said. "I’m chomping at it and I get out and Butch is like, ‘This is a long week; it’s Monday. Just hit some balls and get out of here and we’ll play 18 tomorrow, nine Wednesday and keep it as normal as possible.’"
The sage advice kept Walker from leaving his game at the first tee. The tall Texan opened with a stellar 70 on Thursday, tied for fifth and just two shots off the pace set by Bill Haas. Including amateurs, Walker is one of a record 24 first-timers in the field. All of these Masters rookies are trying to become only the fourth golfer — and the first since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 — to win the Masters in their inaugural appearance.
Of the newbies, the current FedEx Cup leader might be the golfer of choice; quite a contrast for Walker, who only got his first win last November at the Frys.com event. Since then, the 13-year professional has won twice more and is part of a transitional movement on the PGA Tour.
Can any of these men lay claim to the first major in 2014? Walker doesn’t see why not.
"It is golf and you have to go out and execute and hit the shots," Walker said. "You are playing a golf course that everybody talks that you need a lot of local knowledge. But I think that all these guys out here, they know what they are doing when they go to the golf course.
"They know how to prepare. I don’t think it’s out of the question. I’m here to play well. And I’m here to have a chance. I want to win and I think everybody here wants to do that, so why couldn’t a rookie win again?"
Walker might be a rookie at the Masters, but he’s anything but otherwise. He played Augusta National two times three years ago as a guest of one of the members. He came back twice in December and twice more a month back to get a feel for the place.
"I don’t feel like a rookie," Walker said. "I feel like I’m a pretty seasoned veteran."
Walker began his day with two pars before going birdie, bogey, bogey, birdie en route to an even-par 36 on the frontside. He was on his way to dropping out of sight with two bogeys through Amen Corner — including a 6 at 13 — before his prayers were answered with birdies on Nos. 14-17.
At the 18th, he came up a little short of closing his round with five consecutive circles on his card. He settled for par and conceded his round could have gone south after the bogey at 13.
"It could have, but you can’t do that to yourself," he said. "It’s a long week, and 14 and 15 are birdie holes. I was never thinking I was going to make four in a row, but just keep hitting good shots. My caddie said hit a good drive and get a good look. It just happens. You can’t ever give up because you never know what’s going to happen."
It took Walker 188 tries to win his first PGA Tour event. Why not just one time to win his first Masters?
Why not, indeed.
Reach Paul Arnett at email@example.com or 529-4786.