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Golf: Defending champion Walker hopes health woes are behind him

August 5, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Jimmy Walker lines up his putt on the second hole during the third round of the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
August 5, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Jimmy Walker lines up his putt on the second hole during the third round of the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) - For defending champion Jimmy Walker, last year's win at the PGA Championship marked a career high but also the beginning of an unexpected battle with Lyme disease, a chapter he hopes to close when he tees off at Quail Hollow on Thursday.

Walker's win at Baltusrol marked his first major championship but he had little time to celebrate before becoming overcome with fatigue, a symptom of the disease that is transmitted through tick bites.

Walker believes he was bitten during a hunting trip in Texas last November and said he felt "awful" throughout the winter with little energy and a short temper.

"I just felt like I was getting the flu about every other week, like a full-on flu, no energy. I just couldn't figure out what was happening," he said in June of the disease, which frequently goes undiagnosed.

His sports psychologist, Julie Elion, had a hunch the issue could be Lyme disease and encouraged Walker to get tested after other blood tests came back negative.

While competing at the Masters in April, he got word that he had Lyme disease.

"We did a really heavy dose of antibiotics, and they made you very sun sensitive," he said.

"My hands were really burning at The Players (in May), so I decided to shut it down till I was done."

Walker, who took a month off before returning at the U.S. Open in June, said he hopes to feel 100 percent when he tees up in the first round on Thursday.

"I still every now and then have a little bit of the feeling, kind of the Lyme feeling," he said in June.

He said he felt good about his game but acknowledged the disease had taken some of his self-confidence.

"The MoJo has just been gone. You get kind of irritable kind of quick because you just don't feel great, and been taking a lot of Advil and Tylenol. I'm dying to get off that stuff just to function," he said.

"All I'm really looking forward to is just getting healthy."

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both)

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