Jimmy Walker Ryding sizzling start
And where will the focus of the golf world be this week?
Once he got over the hump, Jimmy Walker showed he really did enjoy that whole winning thing. Despite taking 188 starts for his first PGA Tour win, the 34-year-old Texan needed only five more to get victory No. 2.
So what's in store for Walker for the rest of 2014?
Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.
1. What's the ceiling for Jimmy Walker this season?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: As long as it took him to get win No. 2 compared to win No. 1, I expect two more wins and a Ryder Cup spot by the end of the season.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Walker, who will turn 35 on Jan. 16, has now won twice in his past six events. By the end of 2014, he could be a viable candidate for player of the year with a couple more wins. He's got the game and experience to be a top-20 player in the world.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: There is none. While it doesn't seem likely he would go on and win five or six tournaments, what he's done with two early victories -- remember the win at the Frys.com Open counts for this season -- is give himself the ultimate free pass. He's set for the next three years on tour and he's in the majors in 2014. Now he can swing for the fences, take chances, make a run at the U.S. Ryder Cup team. At the very least, he has set himself up for a very big financial year.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: The 2013-14 campaign, just eight tournaments in, already will go down as the best year in Walker's career. He has cashed in for nearly $2.5 million in on-course earnings, which means Walker should now improve his finish on the season-ending money list for the seventh straight year. Not bad, considering it's only mid-January.
2. More likely on the U.S. Ryder Cup team come September -- Jimmy Walker, Chris Kirk or Harris English?
Collins: I think both Harris English and Jimmy Walker will make the team. It's guys like this that are benefiting the most from the new wraparound schedule this year.
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Evans: English is the most talented of these three players and if he doesn't earn his way on to the U.S. team, don't be surprised to see Tom Watson make him one of his captain's picks.
Harig: If you have to pick one, it's Walker, simply because he now leads the points race and has put himself in excellent position to make the team as an automatic qualifier. But English also has put himself in a good spot and if he continues contending, he ought to be in the mix as well.
Maguire: He didn't finish off the victory at the Sony Open, but I'm going with two-time PGA Tour winner English. His demeanor sets him apart, although it wouldn't shock me if at least two of the three made captain Tom Watson's squad. The butterflies might have been buzzing Sunday for English, but you wouldn't have known it. That presence will serve him well when the bounces do go his way later in his career, and believe me, they will.
3. What was Jimmy Walker's biggest challenge in winning the Sony Open?
Collins: Staying aggressive knowing he was bogey-free. In his post-round interview he said his goal was to be bogey-free Sunday. That's not an easy thing even for a pro to do when you know you have to keep making birdies, too.
Evans: On a crowded leaderboard, Walker needed to make a lot of birdies and not surrender any shots to par. He did just that with a bogey-free, 7-under 63 on Sunday. He was the only player of the top-five finishers without a bogey in the final round.
Harig: Not getting swallowed up by the leaderboard. So many players had a chance to win the tournament, at least a half dozen or more could be considered in contention with nine holes to play. He remained patient, then rattled off those three straight birdies on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. He seized the opportunity.
Maguire: It's a common refrain on the PGA Tour (and for golf in general), but Walker's patience proved crucial. With such a bunched up leaderboard, the Texan didn't flinch. He was the only player in the top seven on the final leaderboard without a bogey under some pressure-packed conditions.
• Defending champion: Brian Gay
• Humana Challenge tee times, leaderboard
• Experts' picks
• Venues: Palmer Private at PGA West (par-72/6,930 yards); La Quinta Country Club (par-72/7,060 yards); Nicklaus Private at PGA West (par-72/6,951 yards)
• Location: La Quinta, Calif.
• TV coverage: Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
• Payout: 156-man field with winner earning $1,026,000 of a $5.7 million purse
• Format: 72-hole stroke play with cut after 54 holes to low 70 and ties.
• Quick links: Money leaders | Schedule | World rankings
• Follow @ESPNGolf on Twitter
4. You can pick only one tournament to watch this coming week, so what will it be, the Humana Challenge or Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship?
Collins: HSBC. Watch Rory play as an engaged man and get a look at some European Tour players. The Humana is no longer the entertaining event that was the "Hope."
Evans: Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia were some of the biggest stories in 2013. They are all in the field at Abu Dhabi. It will be very interesting to see the state of their games early in the year. You could have your four major winners of the year in this group.
Harig: I'm watching Abu Dhabi given the choice of only one. McIlroy makes his season debut, as do Mickelson and Stenson. Tough to pass that up.
Maguire: I'm going with the European Tour. No disrespect to Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and the PGA Tour crew, but if forced to pick, it's hard to pass up watching Mickelson, McIlroy, Stenson and Luke Donald. Plus, although I understand why they do it, there's only so much golf I can watch with amateurs like me (at least in the golfing sense) hacking up a PGA Tour course in the desert.
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