There is sure to be a big celebration in Warrnambool tonight with one of its favourite sons, Marc Leishman, once again a winner on the PGA Tour.
Leishman claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot from Americans Charlie Hoffman and Kevin Kisner and, in doing so, booked a return to Augusta National for the Masters starting April 6.
The Australian started the day three shots back and claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour since 2012, when he was victorious at the Travellers Championship, also beating Hoffman by a shot on that occasion.
The tournament was anyone’s to win on Sunday as the leaders made the turn to the back nine, with a charge from Rory McIlroy grabbing much of the attention.
Leishman had been solidly compiling a two under par round until a bogey at the par-4 11th stalled his charge. Playing in front of the Victorian, McIlroy made bogey at the 14th and 18th holes to finish at nine under, which seemed to be a couple of shots short of what would be needed to have a chance of victory.
The big-hitting Leishman hit the par-5 16th green in two, having only a 9-iron for his second shot and would grab a share of the lead if he could manage a two-putt birdie. The 33-year-old had other ideas as he poured in the eagle putt from 51 feet to take the lead by one stroke with two holes to play.
VIDEO: THE PUTT THAT SEALED LEISHMAN'S WIN
When asked later about the eagle putt Leishman said a similar putt earlier in the week helped him with the read. “I actually remembered that I hit that putt, so backed off, took another practice swing and adjusted my read, not like six inches, I adjusted it like two feet and then made it.”
Two steady up-and-down pars from Leishman at the par-3 17th and famous par-4 18th secured his 11 under par score and meant Kisner, who at one stage got to 13 under, would have to birdie the last hole to force a playoff. The American could only manage a par, making Leishman the third Aussie winner at Bay Hill and the second-in-a-row after Jason Day’s triumph in 2016.
With much of the focus early in the week on the first playing of the event since Palmer passed away, the Aussie snuck under the radar of many tipsters, despite challenging here before and having started the year well. Leishman said of the different feeling to the tournament without the namesake present.
“You see guys win and he's waiting there on the back of the green. And to not have that is obviously very sad, but to win here is just a dream come true,” he said.
In what is a new tradition at Bay Hill Leishman was presented with a red cardigan, to honour ‘The King’s’ famous style, and Leishman already has a special place in mind for where it might be kept. “It's going to take quite a place in my, as Audrey calls it, in my man cave,” he said.
The victory is one that might never have happened had his wife’s 2015 health scare, which caused Leishman to withdraw from the Masters that year, turned out differently.
He has mentioned on numerous occasions that he had thoughts of quitting golf altogether. Leishman’s wife, Audrey, and two sons were by the green to congratulate him on the victory, the win taking some family pressure off Leishman. He said after the final round his eldest son Harvey regularly asked, "Daddy, why don't you ever win the trophy?"
With his victory Leishman will now play The Masters, having not been previously exempt for this year’s tournament. Augusta suits the man from Warrnambool’s skills and he enters in red hot form, and should be a strong chance for Australia’s second green jacket.