Marc Leishman has survived and triumphed on his greatest day in tournament golf, winning the BMW Championship in Chicago to confirm his status among the world’s elite.
Leishman, the 33-year-old from Warrnambool in Victoria, completed a wire-to-wire victory in the PGA Tour’s penultimate playoff event when he closed with a four-under 67 at Conway Farms Golf Club today to win by five shots.
It is the biggest win of his career, worth $US1.5million in prizemoney.
His rounds of 62-64-68-67 left him at 23-under par, well ahead of American Rickie Fowler and England’s Justin Rose at 18-under while another Australian, Jason Day, was fourth.
With the second victory of this season in America, Leishman moves to fourth on the Fedex Cup rankings as the players head to East Lake in Atlanta for the Tour Championship this week, and his world ranking is expected to soar from what is already a career-high No. 22 to around No. 12.
Leishman has caught fire, finishing third in the Dell Technologies Championship at his last start where he was reeled in by Justin Thomas, and backing up with the win here.
He was challenged today but responded brilliantly, starting out with a five-shot lead and immediately hitting an iron shot in close on the first for a birdie.
But countryman Day moved within three at one point, then Englishman Justin Rose came within two shots after Leishman made a three-putt bogey from the back of the green at the par-four 13th. Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, had made three consecutive birdies and was charging.
But Leishman stayed calm, rolling in a 10-metre birdie putt and bringing out the fist pump at the par-four 15th, then another from three metres at the 16th to regain control. By the time Rose made bogey from behind the green at the 17th, and Leishman hit a gorgeous iron shot to the same hole a few moments later, it was pretty much over.
The Victorian played safe at the water-strewn par-five 18th, hitting iron off the tee, but he had a grandstand finish in him. Wedging to six metres, he rolled in the birdie putt from the fringe to close it out.
He was embraced by his American wife Audrey, who almost died of toxic shock two years ago. Audrey had suggested bringing a bunch of ribbons to promote awareness of the Sepsis syndrome this week, and was delighted that all the players wore them. It was a portent of the week that was to come for the family, who live in Virginia with their three young children.
"Rose made a really good run at me towards the end, but I just happened to hole a couple of putts there on 15 and 16 for birdie to sneak away a little bit," Leishman said.
"But then it was so nice to roll in that birdie on 18 so that was like the icing on the cake."
It is the 11th win of Leishman’s professional career, which came after a stellar amateur career in which he emerged from the shadow of his father Paul, a club champion at the Warrnambool Golf Club on Victoria’s south-west coast.
He won a scholarship at the Victorian Institute of Sport, turned professional in 2005, and moved to America as a young man to pursue his dreams. His 2017 season has been a ground-breaker, including a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida.
"Well, there was probably a few little scars from a few weeks ago at the Dell, and I was really, really determined to not let that happen again and try and give myself a big enough buffer that I could get it done, and I got it done," he said.
"It has been an amazing season for me winning the Arnold Palmer near the start of the year and now winning the BMW Championship, so it has been a very solid year.
"To have also played so well in Boston was a great experience and it was just nice all week here in Chicago to be standing over the putter and seeing the line, and then being able to hit it on the line.
"It’s even better when they go in and got me the win today.
"The good thing now is that I am in the top-five on the FedEx Cup standings so I am now very much in control of my own destiny going to the Tour Championship.
"And I will get to Atlanta on Tuesday feeling great about my chances."
Leishman was looking forward to celebrating with his parents who were flying overnight from Melbourne to be with their three-time PGA Tour-winning son and his family.
"I will get to see them tomorrow (Monday) and I am sure me and Dad will have a couple of beers to celebrate before it is back to business and getting to Atlanta on Tuesday."
Former world No.1 Day ended up fourth after a 69 today, and he will join Leishman in the Tour Championships at East Lake next week.
Cameron Smith’s season is over after he finished tied-12th. Needing a top-four result to reach the field for Atlanta next week, he was tied ninth as he came up the 18th hole; going for the green in two to pick up an eagle and get into the Tour Championship, he found water and made a second consecutive bogey, but his performance was encouraging.
American Jordan Spieth leads the Fedex Cup rankings into Atlanta from Thomas and Dustin Johnson, with Leishman in fourth.
The winner receives a $US10 million bonus.
No Australian has ever won the Fedex Cup, the closest being Day’s third place in 2015.