PEBBLE BEACH -- In the end, Jimmy Walker didn't require Clint Eastwood to come to the Heimlich rescue.
But Walker definitely was swallowing hard before rolling in a testy 5-foot par putt to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by a single stroke Sunday after taking a six-shot lead into the final round.
What looked to be a Walker runaway with even nine holes to go -- he was still up by six at the No. 10 turn -- got very interesting very late at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Furious charges by two-time winner Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner, coupled with three Walker bogeys on the back nine forced the leader to shoot par on the par-5 final hole for a 2-over 74 to pull out the victory.
Walker acknowledged that it required some very big gulps of air to finish off things.
"There wasn't a whole lot to celebrate coming down the stretch," he said. "It just felt like I was kind of leaking oil, and I gave it a pretty good outburst on the last hole. Just relief. Holy cow."
Indeed, the 18th proved anything but a routine par. Reluctantly following the advice of his longtime caddie, Andy Sanders, Walker hit a 4-iron off the tee at the 543-yard ocean-hugging hole and needed three shots to get to the green.
He hit his approach shot within 27 feet of the pin on 18, but he rolled his first putt past the hole and left himself a longer putt than the one he missed on 17 for bogey. His final putt appeared to be making a left turn as it rolled toward the cup, but it caught the lip and dropped in for the win.
"The best stroke of the back nine, I think, really," Walker said. "That was nice."
Indeed, the victory made Walker, 35, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season after capturing the Frys.com Open in San Martin in October and the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. He already led in tour earnings and FedEx points by a wide margin coming in, and now he's taking those leads out of sight with his $1.18 million winner's check and 500 FedEx additional points.
But after Sunday, Walker will take nothing for granted regarding whopping advantages.
"I learned that having a big lead's tough," he said. "It kind of gets you out of firing at a few pins, or you over-aim a little bit. I don't know. I'm going to reflect on it a little more tonight. But as of right now, I'm still kind of blown away by the finish and everything that happened. I'm sorting through it all."
The day began with Walker six shots ahead of Hunter Mahan and Tim Wilkinson, but as those two stalled, Johnson and Renner rose to take up the chase. Playing four groups in front of the leaders, the long-hitting Johnson at least gave Walker something to think about when he birdied the final hole, posted a 6-under 66 and got to 10-under 277 for the tournament. Renner joined him at 10 under two groups later with a five-birdie 31 on the back nine.
Walker scored pars on Nos. 13-16 to stay two shots ahead, but when he missed a 3-foot par putt on 17, collars suddenly tightened. And as he walked up the 18th fairway to hit his final approach, the San Antonio resident got more advice from Sanders about the majesty of Pebble Beach.
"The people who have won here, it's amazing," Walker said. "You think of (Tom) Watson chipping in, and what Tiger (Woods) did in 2000, and (Jack) Nicklaus winning, and just all the people that have won here. It's such a cool place to win, and there's not a better place to have a chance to win than on that last hole.
"(Sanders) said, 'This is why you're here, and this is why we played this week to get to this spot.' I'm really glad he said that. It calmed me down."
Walker made just one bogey over his first 54 holes covering the three Monterey Peninsula courses, but he made four Sunday to finish at 11-under 276. The win was extra special, he said, because of the death of his grandfather Jim Walker last week.
Walker said he doesn't consider himself a rising American star despite his three wins in eight starts after going winless for nine years and 187 tour events. At least he didn't want to dwell on it.
"I've always felt I belonged out here, that I was a really good player and that I had a lot of game," he said. "But I'll let you guys figure that out."
Renner and Johnson each earned $580,800 tying for second, while Jordan Spieth and Kevin Na tied for fourth, each picking up $290,400.
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
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