Throughout his nine-year PGA Tour career, Marc Leishman has given teases that he might actually be a big-time player, most notably when he contended at the 2013 Masters and when he made a three-man playoff at the 2015 Open Championship.
A third-place finish at the Dell Technologies Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup Playoffs, opened more eyes to his prodigious talent, but a difficult closing stretch, where he lost a lead on the back nine, created concern about how he would be able to respond at the BMW Championship, the third leg of the playoffs.
Leishman responded by compiling one of the most complete and thorough beat-downs of the entire 2017 season: a wire-to-wire, tournament record-setting, five-stroke victory.
At 23-under through four rounds, nobody else appeared to be anywhere close to Leishman’s level at Conway Farms, with distant runner-ups Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler getting closest at 18-under.
Now, Leishman goes into the playoff-ending Tour Championship with one of the much-coveted top five positions, meaning he controls his own destiny in the battle for the FedExCup and its exorbitant $10 million prize.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Marc Leishman -23
T2 Justin Rose -18
T2 Rickie Fowler -18
4 Jason Day -16
T5 Jon Rahm -15
T5 Matt Kuchar -15
T7 Tony Finau -13
T7 Jordan Spieth -13
T9 Anirban Lahiri -12
T9 Webb Simpson -12
T9 Patrick Cantlay -12
T12 Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia -11
T20 Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson -10
T27 Gary Woodland, Keegan Bradley -9
T33 Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey -8
T40 Adam Hadwin, Ian Poulter -7
T47 Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas -5
T51 Henrik Stenson -4
T58 Si Woo Kim, Rory McIlroy -2
62 Billy Horschel -1
T63 Jhonattan Vegas, Louis Oosthuizen E
65 Patrick Reed +1
HOW LEISHMAN DID IT
There were a plethora of compelling battles within this tournament, but thanks to Leishman’s impeccable play, none of those battles were at the very top of the leaderboard.
The 33-year-old Aussie had the low round of the entire tournament, a 9-under 62 in round one, and over the next three days, he never looked close to relinquishing that advantage.
Holding a five-shot lead to begin the day, Leishman put a red number on his card on the very first hole, birding the par-4 to set the pace for another tremendous day. Leishman hit the turn at 2-under on the day, and then proceeded to look almost -sort of- vulnerable early on the back nine, with four pars and a bogey from 10-14.
At different times, Jason Day and Justin Rose were able to cut the deficit to two strokes, but Leishman hit the gas for the home stretch, and with birdies on 15, 16, and 18, he posted a final round 67 to win by five strokes.
It would have been nearly impossible to be better tee-to-green than Leishman was, gaining nearly 11 strokes on the field in that range. When on the greens, he did not give anything back to the field either, ranking 4th for the week in strokes gained: putting.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR LEISHMAN
This victory means that perhaps Leishman is mentally stronger than he was given credit for. He was hot coming into the BMW after a third-place finish at last week’s Dell Technologies Championship, but after he squandered a Sunday back-nine lead at that tournament, it could have had a detrimental effect on his BMW response.
The win was Leishman’s second of the season, and is one of a career-high seven top 10s in 2017. His $5.7 million in season earnings smashes his old record of $2.5 million in 2014. He goes into the Tour Championship at No. 4 in the standings, meaning that a win captures him the FedExCup, something nobody saw coming two weeks ago.
With the FedExCup points re-setting after the BMW Championship, the top five in the Cup standings get an enormous advantage. The points are redistributed in a way where any of the top five automatically win the FedExCup with a victory at East Lake. Here are those fortunate five:
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Justin Thomas
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Marc Leishman
5. Jon Rahm
Rickie Fowler started the week at No. 6, finished in a tie for second place at Conway Farms and still was not able to crack that top five, largely due to Rahm’s T5, his third straight week inside the tournament top five.
DIVING INTO EAST LAKE
In each of the first two events of the FedExCup Playoffs, three golfers played their way into the following event despite starting below the cutoff line.
After a long day of jostling, that number this week is four.
Tony Finau was the big mover of both the day and the week. A 7-under 64 vaulted the bomber 27 spots up the event leaderboard for a T7 finish, a result that moved him from No. 39 in the standings to No. 24. This will be Finau’s first appearance at the Tour Championship.
Masters Champion Sergio Garcia has been relatively quiet on the PGA Tour since his Augusta triumph, but he apparently was not ready for his 2017 season to be over. Starting the week at No. 34 in the standings, the 37-year-old Spaniard played all four rounds under 70, and a final round 2-under 69 put the finishing touches on a showing that moved him to No. 25 going into East Lake.
It looked like the tremendous rookie season of Xander Schauffele was over halfway through Sunday, but a hot finish (more on that later) was good enough to propel him from No. 32 in the standings to No. 26.
Coming from the furthest back to get into the Tour Championship field was another rookie, Patrick Cantlay. He started the week at No. 41, and after playing the first two rounds in 10-under, Cantlay looked like he would cruise to East Lake. But he struggled to convert birdie chances on Sunday, and after a bogey on 16 put him at even-par for his round, he briefly dropped him below the top 30 cutline.
However, Cantlay again showed the remarkable resiliency that got him this far in the playoffs in the first place, sinking a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole to shoot 1-under for the day, a 70 that moved him to No. 29 in the FedExCup Standings.
Louis Oosthuizen started the week in 24th in the standings and played the weekend 9-under. With only that knowledge, it is downright shocking that Oosthuizen did NOT make the top 30 heading to East Lake for the Tour Championship.
The former Open Champion was fantastic on Saturday and Sunday, but his finishing at No. 31 in the standings well reflects how awful he played in the first two rounds, as a 77-74 start was by far the worst in the field.
Oosthuizen had seven birdies in his final round 4-under 67 to finish T63, and after completing his round, spent much of the afternoon vacillating between being in and being out of the top 30. Ultimately, he did not quite get the help he needed from the rest of the field to reserve a spot at East Lake.
The other three players who started the week inside the top 30, but played their way out were former FedExCup Champions Henrik Stenson (No. 26 to No. 32), and Bill Haas (No. 30 to No. 35).
Brendan Steele saw his championship hopes implode with back-to-back 1-over 72s on the weekend, causing him to drop from No. 27 to No. 33.
X MARKS HIS SPOT
At No. 32 in the FedExCup Standings coming into the week, Tour rookie Xander Schauffele needed a fairly good week to move two spots up into that top 30. He suddenly made himself a long-shot when he opened up the BMW with 72-70, a mediocre score compared to the field.
A Saturday 65 gave a glimmer of hope to the 23-year-old who came out of nowhere in 2017, but with at 2-over through 12 holes on Sunday (two bogeys, no birdies), Schauffele looked dead in the water, unless he could make something amazing happen very fast.
He then proceeded to play his last six holes in 6-under, going birdie, birdie, eagle (on a par-4), birdie, par, birdie to shoot an unlikely 4-under 67, and even better, he jumped up to No. 26 in the FedExCup rankings, ensuring one more week to his magical season.
Henrik Stenson (No. 32)
By winning the last tournament before the playoffs (Wyndham Championship), world No. 7 and 2013 FedExCup Champion Stenson jumped into the top 30.
After a T17 at The Northern Trust, the first leg of the playoffs, Stenson was 23rd in the standings, but decided to skip the Dell Technologies Championship entirely. Even still, he was 26th heading into this week and still looked like a good bet for East Lake, but he chose his worst golf of the past few months at the worst time.
A 3-over back nine meant a 2-over 73, one of the worst final rounds in the field. Stenson finished T51 and dropped to No. 32 in the standings, missing the cutoff by two places.
Phil Mickelson (No. 34)
Coming into the final round at Conway Farms just behind the top 30 cutoff line, Mickelson sounded confident that he would be able to post a low enough score to get back to East Lake.
A terrible start, however, doomed Mickelson’s up-and-down season. He was 2-over through 14 holes, but a chip-in eagle on the par-4 15th kept his hopes alive.
He parred 16 and 17, and needing an eagle on the par-5 18th, his eagle chip skidded just past the hole. He made his birdie putt to shoot 1-under on the day, but a T20 for the week just was not enough to extend his season one more week.
Bill Haas (No. 35)
After making the Tour Championship every year from 2007-2015, the 2011 FedExCup Champion Haas was eliminated at the BMW for the second consecutive playoff.
Haas reached No. 30 in the standings after a T10 finish at the Dell Technologies Championship, but was unable to make any kind of positive move at Conway Farms, and his T54 finish dropped him four spots below the cut line.
Billy Horschel (No. 44)
The 2014 FedExCup Champion is going home after a final round 1-under 70 that included five birdies, but two double-bogeys.
Horschel, who won the BMW in that 2014 championship season, came into the playoffs at No. 24 in the rankings, largely off a win at the Byron Nelson in May, but struggled badly over the last two months, and missed the cut at the first two playoff events. At 1-under for the week, Horschel finished solo-63rd at Conway Farms.
Rory McIlroy (No. 59)
The defending FedExCup Champion will not be given the attempt to defend his Tour Championship title from last year. With a nagging rib injury largely to blame for his overall disappointing season, the four-time major winner was not a factor in any of three playoff events, including a T59 finish at Conway Farms after a final round even-par 71.
At dead last after three days at the BMW Championship, Wesley Bryan knew his rookie season was 18 holes from being over.
Coming into the week, he had fallen to No. 37 and a 76-71-72 start at Conway Farms had him beginning round four at projected No. 42 with too much ground to make up to have a reasonable chance at breaking the top 30 and earning a spot at East Lake.
Playing by himself in the first Sunday grouping (Danny Lee withdrew before the first round, leading to an odd number in the field), Bryan figured he would make his final round of the season memorable by playing fast. Very fast.
The 27-year-old blazed through his entire final round in an unbelievable one hour, 29 minutes, an average of fewer than five minutes per hole.
Bryan did not just finish fast, however, he actually finished very well. He pared the entire front nine, and then three birdies to one bogey on the back nine lead to a 2-under 69, his best round of the week.
While Bryan limped to the finish line a bit this year, with just one finish of better than T29 in his last 13 events, a win at the RBC Heritage in April, one of five top 10 finishes on the season, assured that Bryan will keep his PGA Tour card for at least the next two seasons.