OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Despite flipping Dustin Johnson’s eye-popping score from last week on its head, Marc Leishman’s season isn’t over.
Johnson ran away from the field at The Northern Trust, shooting 30 under par at TPC Boston and coming within a shot of the PGA Tour’s all-time scoring record. This week at difficult Olympia Fields, Leishman opened with an 80 and never recovered, sitting dead last among the 69-player field after each round. Sunday he began 11 shots worse than the next closest competitor, and after closing with a 73 he ended the week at 30 – over, not under.
It’s the highest 72-hole score in relation to par by a pro at a Tour event since Steven Bowditch shot 37 over at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in 2016.
“It’s a tough golf course. Didn’t set up great for me,” Leishman said. “A few too many trees on the left there off the holes you’ve got to hit drivers. There’s a lot of 2-irons for me on holes where I would like to hit driver, but I couldn’t because I fade it.”
Leishman missed the cut last week at TPC Boston. Throw in a dead-last finish at the second playoff event, and you’d think his chances of advancing to the 30-man Tour Championship would be slim. But the Aussie had a strong season before the COVID-19 hiatus, winning at Torrey Pines, finishing second at Bay Hill and third at the Safeway Open. Even with his recent struggles, which also include a missed cut at the PGA Championship, he’ll advance to East Lake where one good week at the right time could earn him $15 million.
“If I have a blinder next week, anything can happen. I’ll start nine or 10 (shots) back,” Leishman said. “I mean, 9 back, 72 holes to play, 10 back, whatever it might be. I haven’t played well on that course, either, but I feel like I’m due there. Things are starting to turn around with how it went today.”
Leishman is one of the more notable examples of players who have struggled to regain their pre-pandemic form. He was No. 7 in points when the Tour’s hiatus began in March, and he’s now expected to drop to No. 26 – a difference of four shots in starting score in Atlanta.
Leishman admitted that he didn’t practice much during the break, a decision he said he might like back in hindsight, and added that he rarely plays during his typical off weeks. As a result, Leishman remarked that he “rarely ever” plays golf without crowds present, and like many other Tour veterans has had difficulty producing his best play in a post-pandemic environment devoid of galleries and fans.
“Just struggling with energy and that sort of thing on the course. Not playing great, either. Yeah, I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Just haven’t been much fun on the golf course, either. It’s a tough game, we all know that. Take the good with the bad, and this is why you celebrate your wins so hard because you’re going to have times like this.”
This will be the second installment of the Tour Championship using starting strokes, where the No. 1 seed begins the week at 10 under. While Rory McIlroy won last year’s event after starting at 5 under, Leishman believes it’s only a matter of time before one of the 10 lowest players, all beginning the week at Even or 1 under, finds a way to win the eight-figure top prize.
“I’ve come from six back before. I’ve also lost leads on the back nine. So things can change pretty quickly, particularly at that golf course,” Leishman said. “I mean, it’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when, that someone will win from in the 20s. And if it were me, that trophy is going to be full and wet.”