(Reuters) - American Jimmy Walker birdied four of the last six holes to storm clear of a crowded leaderboard and win his second PGA Tour title by one shot at the Sony Open in Hawaii on Sunday.
The 34-year-old, who had trailed by two strokes overnight, produced ice-cool composure and superb play over the closing stretch as he fired a flawless seven-under-par 63 at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
Six players held at least a share of the lead during a wildly fluctuating final round but the long-hitting Walker made his timely charge with birdies at the 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th to post a 17-under total of 263.
Overnight leader Chris Kirk recovered from a slow start to close with a five-birdie 66 and secure outright second place, finishing a stroke in front of fellow American Jerry Kelly (65), the 2002 champion at Waialae.
Kirk, playing in the final group, had a chance to force a playoff with an eagle at the par-five last but his chip from in front of the green ran eight feet past the cup and Walker was able to celebrate his second victory on the U.S. circuit.
”Today was awesome,“ a beaming Walker told Golf Channel after earning the winner’s check for just over $1 million. ”I felt in control all day with my emotions.
“I made a key par putt (from 12 feet) on 14, which was really big, and then the string of birdies (to finish) there was pretty awesome.”
Walker, who needed 188 career starts on the PGA Tour to clinch his first title at the Frys.com Open in October, felt that maiden victory had been instrumental in helping him add another just five starts later.
”You learn so much out here and it took me a long time to do it,“ he said of his long-awaited breakthrough win. ”I feel like I did learn a lot that week.
“I felt very calm and in control and that’s what everybody has kind of been saying. That’s what you’ve got to feel and do when it’s time to win. Today I stayed patient.”
Sunday was always likely to end up as a birdie slugfest at Waialae where 12 players were separated by just three shots at the top of the leaderboard going into the final round.
Kirk, one ahead overnight, bogeyed the par-three fourth after missing the green to the right off the tee to slip back into a three-way tie for the lead with Harris English and Walker.
English edged a stroke in front when he sank a seven-footer to birdie the par-four fifth, then briefly doubled his advantage by rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt at the seventh.
A bogey at the par-four eighth, where he missed the green with his approach, dropped English back into a share of the lead with Brian Stuard, and soon after they were joined at the top by Jeff Overton, Kelly and Walker.
English again edged ahead, with a two-putt birdie at the par-five ninth, before being caught at 13 under by Overton, Kelly, Walker and Stuard.
That back-and-forth pattern continued on the back nine, English getting to 14 under with a seven-footer for birdie at the 10th before Kelly, and then Walker, made it a three-way tie at the top.
A perfect drive and accurate approach to nine feet at the 14th set up another birdie for English as he regained a one-stroke cushion, but Walker drew level by sinking a 14-footer at the par-four 15th.
English was unfortunate to bogey the 15th after his iron shot off the tee kicked badly to the right before ending up in a bad lie in the rough.
One group ahead, Walker immediately took advantage with a birdie at the 16th, hitting a pinpoint approach to seven feet and sinking the putt to move two ahead at 16 under.
Walker tightened his grip on the title by hitting a stunning tee shot to six feet at the par-three 17th and coolly knocking in the putt, then signed off with a par at the last after narrowly missing another birdie attempt from 10 feet.
English carded a 67 to finish fourth at 14 under, four strokes better than fellow American Zach Johnson (69), who won his 11th PGA Tour title at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua on Monday.
Masters champion Adam Scott surged to just one shot off the lead with a blistering run of five birdies in his first nine holes before losing momentum after the turn on the way to a 66 and a tie for eighth at 10 under.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry