'I thought I'd just ended this golf tournament,' he said.
But the ball came up just short, in heavy grass around a pot bunker left of the four-leaf clover-shaped green. Suddenly, Leonard's luck had run out.
He chipped about 12 feet short of the hole and lipped out the putt that would have won the PGA Championship.
Vijay Singh, who hadn't made a single birdie all afternoon, birdied the first hole of the three-hole, three-way playoff to beat Leonard and Chris DiMarco.
DiMarco's consolation was a spot on the Ryder Cup team. He entered the week in 15th place and jumped seven spots to No. 8 to secure an automatic spot on the American team.
Leonard needed to win to earn a Ryder Cup berth and now can get in only if he is one of Hal Sutton's two captain's picks.
'I would love to be picked. I could help the U.S. win the Ryder Cup,' Leonard said. 'But I also know there are a lot of guys ahead of me who have played well in the last three years. I'm just now starting to play well here in the last six weeks. I'm not expecting to get picked. I won't be disappointed.'
Not like he was when he watched his aggressive shot on 18 fall short.
'Really, I was trying to hit at the hole. If I try to play safe, hit it over the right, I've got a really hard two putts,' Leonard said.
Leonard took the same gamble in the playoff. He had no choice then. Singh was a shot ahead and was safely on the green in two. This time, Leonard's shot was better, if just barely, but it didn't matter.
Singh said he was mindful of Leonard's miscalculation and the tricky winds on the green when he approached the 18th hole with the same one-shot lead in the playoff.
'I was surprised that Justin hit it short,' Singh said. 'I thought it was going to be right. ... It was playing longer than we thought, and I think that fooled everybody. The wind was actually hurting us when we got to the green. We could not feel it from the fairway, but down below it was hurting us.'
That's why Singh hit a 5-wood in the playoff, leaving him a longer shot from 240 yards. With the ball slightly above his feet, he hit 6-iron to the middle of the green in regulation.
'I had a one-shot lead, so I just said, 'All you need to do is hit the green in some way and put a little more pressure on the guys,'' Singh said.
Playing in the final group at the PGA for the third time, Leonard had taken a two-shot lead with five holes to play with an 18-foot birdie putt. But he missed four putts, one of them for birdie, inside 12 feet down the stretch.
DiMarco was watching Leonard's collapse from the clubhouse and hustled out to take one practice drive, which he hit right down the fairway.
DiMarco had an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th in regulation that he left less than a foot short. He closed with a 71, the only player in the final nine groups to break par.
'To shoot 71 on this course on Sunday, I'm proud of myself,' DiMarco said.
DiMarco said he'd love to see another major at Whistling Straits but with a revamped final hole, a sentiment that Leonard would agree with.
'The golf course was a lot more difficult today,' Leonard said. 'I think what ultimately cost me the tournament was my putting. I missed about four putts inside of 10 feet on the back nine. It's pretty hard to win a golf tournament, much less a major, when you do something like that.'
Was there one putt that will haunt him?
'Any one of them,' he said. 'All I needed was one of them to go in. Obviously, 15 and 16 being so close to the end of the round, if either one of them would have fallen, it would have been a different story.'
His best shot of the round was a 3-iron from 198 yards into a stiff breeze on the 518-yard 15th to within 10 feet. A birdie would have given him a three-shot lead with three holes to play, but he lipped out. Leonard then missed a 5-foot par putt on the 16th that narrowed his lead to one.
'You know, any number of those putts,' Leonard said, shaking his head. 'If the putt at 16 would have gone in, if the putt at 7 would have gone in. I mean, we could go on and on. And I'm sure I probably will through the night in my own mind.'
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