LAKE FOREST, Ill. – With the tournament reaching its final stage, the leaderboards surrounding each green reflected a familiar scenario. Marc Leishman had amassed a two-shot lead after more than 60 holes of golf, and the trophy was within reach.
It’s the same script that played out two weeks ago at TPC Boston, where Leishman fumbled away his lead down the stretch by shooting a back-nine 40. But faced with an opportunity for redemption and with Justin Rose quickly making up ground, the Aussie didn’t blink and instead walked away with a five-shot, wire-to-wire victory at the BMW Championship.
It’s a win that vaults Leishman to fourth in the FedExCup standings, and up to 13th in the newest world rankings. It’s also another stark reminder that his time as one of the more underrated players on the PGA Tour may quickly be coming to an end.
“Backing up that back nine last week at the Dell (Technologies Championship), when the pressure got put on by Rosie, I reacted with birdies,” Leishman said. “Just tried to keep doing my own thing and give myself chances, and managed to roll a couple in there at the end which was nice walking up the last there with a bit of a buffer.”
Leishman started the day with a five-shot lead, one that he revealed after the fact was large enough that he should win – but not large enough to put him out of reach. After Rose birdied No. 14, Leishman's advantage was trimmed to the same two-shot edge he was unable to maintain two weeks ago when Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth raced past him.
This time around, he answered the call with a birdie on No. 15 – and another on the next hole to remove any doubt about the outcome.
It’s the second win this year for the 33-year-old, who also captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He heads into the Tour Championship as perhaps the hottest player on Tour, and he’ll be a key cog for the International Team at the Presidents Cup later this month.
While it’s a somewhat surprising ascent for a player who won just one event in his first eight seasons on Tour, his peers have long realized Leishman’s potential.
“I think he’s a great player, especially I grew up playing amateur golf against him,” said Jason Day. “I don’t think he may have projected himself standing where he is today when we were sitting on a tee back when I was 16 and he was 18 or so. 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.”
To see Leishman sandwiched between two trophies on the 18th green and surrounded by his three children, including daughter Eva born this summer, is a far cry from the depths of 2015 when his wife, Audrey, nearly died from complications tied to sepsis.
But with his wife once again healthy and a new arrival to celebrate, Leishman has found harmony both on and off the course this year – even if it has caused little change to his largely unflappable demeanor.
“He’s a very humble guy, and so I think sometimes people maybe underestimate his drive. But he’s always had that drive,” Audrey said. “He’s always given it 110 percent, but he just has been content to lie low and he doesn’t really feel the need to have all the media stuff. So I think because of that, him flying under the radar, people sort of assume that.”
Leishman is candid about the fact that, while many of his peers set ambitious goals and strive to be the best player in the world, that has never been his aim. He enjoys having a work-life balance, and his off weeks are spent with his growing family and usually far away from the practice range.
“I feel like, with the life I live, that’s probably very hard for me to do that,” he said. “I feel like you have to dedicate your whole life – not your whole life, but you have to work very, very hard. I’m happy doing what I’m doing now with the life I’ve got and the way I’m playing and all that, to be happy with where I am.”
Armed with a wire-to-wire victory against an elite field, Leishman now has plenty to be happy with heading into the season’s final event. His goals may be modest and his tone understated, but make no mistake about it: Leishman deserves every inch of real estate he now occupies among the game’s elite.
Golf does not often afford mulligans, especially at the highest level. But granted another chance to close out a lead coming down the stretch, Leishman this time around left no room for doubt.
“It’s just nice to put four good rounds on the board and in a really big event,” he said. “Backing up what happened last week was probably the most satisfying thing for me.”