Sunday
Sep172017

Leishman brings it home

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Vindication.

Marc Leishman earned that along with the title of BMW Championship winner on Sunday.

Two weeks ago Monday, Leishman blew up on the back nine of TPC Boston, allowing Justin Thomas to pass him and win the second tournament in the PGA Tour’s playoff series.

He’d won tournaments – the Travelers in 2012 and the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year – but Leishman, for better or worse, was better known for dropping a playoff to Zach Johnson in the British Open at St. Andrews and finishing tied for fourth in the 2013 Masters, where he flirted with trying on a green jacket on the back nine.

It was more like a strait jacket.

This one, he would not lose.

This one, Leishman won going away, scoring a Western Open / BMW record 261 with a final-round 67 at Conway Farms Golf Club, shoving Tiger Woods (2007) and Jason Day (2015) aside. His 23-under-par mark matched the record set by Dustin Johnson at Crooked Stick Golf Club last year, when Johnson shot 265 on the par-72 course.

Leishman beat Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler by five strokes in his wire-to-wire triumph. Rose scored 6-under 65 for his 18-under total of 266, while Fowler posted a 67. Twice, Rose closed the gap to two strokes, but with Leishman playing nearly flawless golf – he had two bogeys on Sunday and six for the week to go with 29 birdies – either Rose or Fowler would have needed to shoot 61 to force extra holes.

“I had a big enough buffer to get it done, and I got it done,” Leishman said.

The big 33-year-old Australian who had grudgingly accepted his underdog status, hoping to discard it, can do that now. Winning at Conway Farms not only gives him unparalleled momentum entering next week’s Tour Championship, it moved him to fourth in the playoff race and thus assures him of the FedEx Cup title and $10 million pot o’gold if he wins at East Lake Golf Club next week. (Leader Jordan Spieth and the others in the top five, Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm, also can do so.)

The difference between Labor Day near Boston and Sunday in Lake Forest was simple: This time, Leishman hit the shots where he wanted to and made key birdie putts down the stretch. A snake of a 28-footer on the par-4 15th followed by a 10-footer on the par-4 16th to go to 22-under, extending his lead over Rose to three strokes, elicited fist pumps from the usually placid Australian, especially on No. 16.

“I’d say that was a little bigger than the one on 15 because it gave me a four-shot buffer at the time,” Leishman said. “You’ve got to do something drastically wrong to lose a four-shot lead with two to play.”

Sort of how he threw away Boston, though the lead wasn’t as large. That annoyance is now buried, and Leishman can look ahead to the Tour Championship.

“I had my sights set high for the FedEx Cup and trying to get into the top five,” Leishman said. “It’s nice to have the (J.K. Wadley and BMW) trophies there, and be in that top five, and if I have another good week next week, who knows what might happen?”

Rose rued squandered opportunities.

“I went as far as I could,” Rose said. “I missed the fairway on 14 and didn’t birdie 15. Those two holes didn’t work out for me.”

Fowler frittered away chance after chance following birdies on the first two holes.

“I needed a couple more on the front nine,” Fowler said.

Day, who nipped at Leishman’s heels all week, scored 2-under 69 with a bogey at the last to finish fourth at 16-under 268. Matt Kuchar and Rahm tied for fifth at 15-under 269. Defending champion Dustin Johnson scored 7-under 64 to finish tied for 33rd at 8-under 276.

The Tour Championship battle

Tony Finau’s chip-in birdie for a closing 7-under 64 exemplified the tournament-within-a-tournament that is the scrap to advance to the Tour Championship. He entered the week 39th but jumped to 24th by tying for seventh. Sergio Garcia, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, the latter with an 11-foot birdie on the 18th hole, climbed into the top 30 and get to play East Lake, while Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Brendan Steele and Bill Haas fell out of the top 30 and saw their season end abruptly.

Phil Mickelson ended up 34th, but the PGA Tour’s statistical wizards figured out that one saved stroke somewhere along the way this season would have been good enough to make next week’s party. The competition is that close.

Around Conway Farms

Ollie Schniederjans was even par for 17 holes on Sunday and finished with a 77, thanks to a septuple-bogey 11 on the 18th hole. A tee shot into the left hay opened the festivities, and his second shot went further left and was lost. He dropped and plunked his fourth shot into the creek. Another shot into the rough was followed by another shot into the creek. By now, Schneiderjans just wanted to go to the airport. He whacked his ninth shot on the green and two putted. He finished 66th at 2-over 286. ... Sergio Garcia needed 20 minutes to get a ruling when his second shot on the 18th ended up in the creek near the green. He eventually made par, while Mickelson, his fellow competitor, quietly steamed en route to making a birdie. ... Wesley Bryan opened the day with a round of Speedgolf, or something close to it. He whipped around Conway Farms in 88 minutes, scoring 2-under 69 before most of the estimated 26,000 spectators had assembled. ... The 69-player field averaged 69.116 strokes for both the final round and the week. Only 50 over-par rounds were recorded during the week. ... Don’t be surprised if the Tour Championship starts moving about the landscape beginning with the 2018-19 season, even though it’s anchored at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and its two major sponsors, Coca Cola and Southern Company, are headquartered there. ... Next year’s Western Open / BMW will go east to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., near Philadelphia, on Sept. 6-9. It will be the second Western played in Pennsylvania. The 1959 edition at Pittsburgh Field Club, in which Mike Souchak edged Arnold Palmer, was the first. It will be the easternmost Western / BMW, surpassing the 1948 tournament, won by Ben Hogan near Buffalo, N.Y.

Tim Cronin

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