TOUR Championship: Don’t Sleep on Marc Leishman

Posted by: mike September 21st, 2017

By Jeff Shain

Golf Insiders contributor

 

Three years ago, a back-nine blunder cost Billy Horschel the second leg of the FedExCup playoffs. Undeterred, the former Florida standout won the BMW Championship a week later and stayed hot to become the most unlikely winner yet of the PGA Tour’s season-ending bonus.

You might remember the final scene, where Horschel goaded a Georgia crowd by doing the Gator Chomp on East Lake’s 18th green.

Fast forward to this month. Having coughed up a back-nine lead at TPC Boston, Marc Leishman ran away from the BMW Championship field to rewrite that longstanding event’s scoring record. And with a win at East Lake…

No, the Aussie won’t do the Gator Chomp. But he might sharpen his mower blades.

It turns out Leishman, 33, is something of a compulsive lawn mower. Rare is a day when he’s home that he doesn’t cut the grass.

“Neighbors think I’m crazy,” he told reporters at Conway Farms.Marc Leishman

But we digress. What isn’t all that crazy is that Leishman seems to be scripting a Horschel sequel in the 2017 postseason.

“He's obviously answering the call,” said Jason Day, “which is what you need to do – especially on such a big stage as the FedExCup playoffs.”

Sunday’s victory was Leishman’s second of the year. He also won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, coming from three shots back on the final day at Bay Hill to overtake Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman. Until then, his PGA Tour career had produced one win in eight years.

“It’s hard to imagine winning twice in one year,” Leishman said, “and two big events like they were.”

On the other hand, there are those in Tour circles who will tell you they saw something like this coming. Leishman’s unassuming nature belies a solid game that didn’t need much to take the next step in 2017.

He already had a reputation as perhaps the game’s top player in blustery winds. And thanks to a new driver put in play at the start of the year, he’s hitting it longer and straighter even when conditions are benign.

“Marc’s a world-class player now,” said Rickie Fowler, whose runner-up effort at Conway Farms still left him five shots behind Leishman.

“He’s got the power, hits it plenty far. He’s definitely not someone you look past. Maybe that’s been the case in the past.”

NBC analyst Bones Mackay, only three months removed from his days in a caddie bib, stepped out in Boston to declare Leishman the most under-the-radar player in the game. Nor did he ease up when asked again this week.

“He seems to make big stages small,” Mackay said. “You don't have to pay too much attention to Marc to realize that he's capable of doing something very, very big. And I'll be very surprised several years from now if he hasn't won a major.”

He nearly did two years ago, the low-key third man in an Open Championship playoff alongside major winners Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen. Had Leishman made his birdie putt at St. Andrews’ 18th, there would have been no need for extra holes.

That came just three months after a family crisis had Leishman contemplating an early retirement. His wife, Audrey, was given only a 5 percent chance of surviving a bout with sepsis – toxic shock as her body reacted badly to a series of infections.

With two young boys, Leishman faced the likelihood of raising them as a single father.

On Sunday, sons Harvey and Oliver were at Conway Farms to race out and drape their dad in hugs. Audrey joined them with the family’s newest addition – 2-month-old Eva.

“Now everything is great off the course,” Leishman said. “My golf game feels better than it ever has, in all respects. Not only the driver, but (I’m) putting better than I ever have. … Everything is feeling really good, but I think the off-course stuff is really, really important.”

To be fair, Leishman winning the FedExCup wouldn’t be as much of a longshot as Horschel’s run from No.82 in the points race. Leishman entered the postseason at No.14 and dropped only to 20th after a missed cut at The Northern Trust.

He’d been hovering in the 30s of the world rankings since winning at Bay Hill, now standing No.15 after going 23-under par at Conway Farms.

Day has known his fellow Aussie since their teenage years and thinks the best is yet to come.

“I don’t think he may have projected himself standing where he is today,” Day said. “He's done a tremendous job, obviously, getting to where he is. I think there's still a ton left in the tank for him.”

First, we’ll see if he has enough in the tank to conquer East Lake. Don’t be surprised if he does.

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.