18 Jan 2021 | Professional golf |
Leish back, even without a victory
by Mark Hayes
It’s a golfing twist on an old riddle: When you can leave a winner without winning?
That’s precisely the feeling Marc Leishman will have when he gets to Honolulu airport after a dazzling finish to grab a share of fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii today.
Before Kevin Na fought to a fifth career US PGA Tour title with a birdie on the final hole, Leishman’s back-nine 30 at Waialea Country Club momentarily gave the Australian a flicker of hope.
Leishman’s own short birdie on the final hole came after his makeable eagle putt came up frustratingly short, but it was one of very few mistakes in the final two hours of a great tournament for the Australian contingent.
Not only did Leishman’s third consecutive 65 leave him tied fourth at -19 and in a good mental state for his upcoming title defence at Torrey Pines, but compatriot Matt Jones shared the day’s equal best score to scythe through the field.
Jones’ 63-64 weekend enabled him to climb to a share of 11th at -17, already his third top-15 finish in the 2020-21 season and enough to have him on the edge of the top 50 in early going of the FedEx Cup.
His fellow Sydneysider Cam Davis was also impressive throughout, with his closing 66 good for -13 and a share of 31st.
Veterans Adam Scott (68) and Aaron Baddeley (72) took different routes to end up sharing 41st at -11, while Cam Smith’s title defence lost momentum with a closing 71 to finish T62 at eight under.
Na, whose short putting is normally a strength, looked in trouble when he uncharacteristically three-putted the 12th to fall back to -17 and then drove into the rough on the dog-leg 13th.
But his spectacular second shot to 4m set up the first of four late birdies to finish 21 under and see off fellow American Chris Kirk and in-form Presidents Cup player Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, at -20.
Leishman was, on paper at least, a key victim of the Covid-enforced changes in 2020. He won in San Diego and was up to No.15 in the world rankings when he was second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational shortly afterwards in what became his final tournament for 14 weeks.
Subsequently, the big Victorian uncustomarily missed six cuts and, barring a T13 at the Masters, had not enjoyed a top-20 finish since.
So he was delighted to have rediscovered his tournament touch in Hawaii, hitting what he said were “good shots again” under final-round pressure.
“I've been playing poorly the last six or eight months and when you're not playing great and nowhere near the lead, it's hard to pull that energy from anywhere,” Leishman said.
“It was nice to have that (back and I will) take a lot of good stuff away from this.
“I’m happy to get the competitive juices flowing again and (it has) put me in a good spot going into Torrey Pines in a couple of weeks.”
Leishman began his final round a tad wobbly off the tee, having to chip out en route to bogeys on both the fifth and eighth holes.
“It was a rocky start. A couple of tee shots that caught limbs and (the ball) finished right up against trees.
“I had to chip one out left-handed and the other one was from between tree roots. That was not the start I was after.
“But I’m proud of the way I fought back … six under for the last 10, so that was good … and gives me a lot of confidence going into San Diego in a couple of weeks.” LEADERBOARD
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