Golf: Monster putt ends Leishman's drought

A dream come true for the family as Australian Marc Leishman celebrates with expectant wife Audrey and sons Harvey and Oliver after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.
A dream come true for the family as Australian Marc Leishman celebrates with expectant wife Audrey and sons Harvey and Oliver after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Late eagle helps him hold off McIlroy & Co at Bay Hill to earn spot at next month's Masters

ORLANDO • With a 52-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole that would have made the tournament's long-time host proud, Marc Leishman of Australia took the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday - and then he held on.

He had to stare down a four-foot par putt on the final hole to post a three-under-par 69 for a 72-hole aggregate of 11-under 277 and a one-stroke victory at Bay Hill over Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman.

Leishman's par secured his come-from-behind win, his second PGA Tour victory, and qualified him for next month's Masters.

His victory was the type of wild finish that Palmer, who died in September at 87, would have enjoyed, as a practitioner of a go-for-broke style characterised by playing out of the woods and ditches with equal abandon.

Rory McIlroy tried his hardest to pull off a Palmer-like charge. He started the weekend 11 strokes off the pace and caught the leaders with a birdie at 16 that put him at 10 under.

He had a chance at a share of the lead on the last hole but took three putts from 40 feet and finished with a 69, good for a fourth-place tie with Tyrell Hatton (71).

"I walked up the last and saw that Leishman had eagled 16 and went to 11, so I thought, 'I need to make this to have a chance'," McIlroy said.

For most of the day, it looked as if Kisner might be the player to earn his second tour title. He had built a three-stroke lead at 13 under, but bogeys at Nos. 8, 12 and 14 dropped him to 10 under, and he closed with a 73 to equal Hoffman, his 54-hole co-leader.

"I had it right there in the palm of my hand to win, and I didn't get it done," Kisner said.

Leishman credited his hot putter, which he said has been more friend than foe all year. It showed up at the right time at the par-five 16th. His eagle putt was drawn in by the hole as if pulled by a magnet, and he pumped his right fist.

"I actually hit that putt earlier in the week, and missed it low left, and I worked on that, so practice pays off," he said.

Leishman, 33, had not won on tour since the 2012 Travelers Championship, but the victory drought was nothing compared with what he and his family have endured recently.

Nearly two years ago, he departed Augusta National in the wee hours before the start of the Masters when his wife, Audrey, was found to have acute respiratory distress and toxic shock syndrome.

She was put into a medically induced coma in a Virginia hospital to fight the infection. Her last words to her husband before falling unconscious: "Please look after my cats and take the kids to get their Easter bunny photos."

She nearly died, but survived the scare. Her first words to her husband: "Sorry about the Masters."

Leishman said the trying times changed his outlook on life. "It makes golf less important," he said. "We've been in life-and-death situations."

The Leishmans, who have two sons - Harvey, five, and Ollie, three - are expecting another child in mid-July.

In case Leishman had forgotten his long victory drought, Harvey provided frequent reminders.

"For the past year, Harvey has been asking Marc, 'Daddy, why don't you ever win a trophy'?" Audrey said.

"So it's been a real dream and a real motivation to win a trophy for Harvey and Ollie, and the fact that we're all here together is a dream come true."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Monster putt ends Leishman's drought'. Print Edition | Subscribe