Marc Leishman found himself in a dogfight with the two hottest players in the golf world today at TPC Boston, and ultimately dropped his chance of glory. But even in defeat the Australian, clearly this country’s best player in 2017, managed to enhance his reputation just a little.
The big man from Warrnambool was on the cusp of the biggest win of his professional career when he raced through the front nine of the final round in the Dell Technologies Championship in 30, six-under par, taking a two-shot lead in the second of the PGA Tour's playoff series.
It was astonishing golf, but Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are superstars of the sport, winners of the past two major championships, and Leishman felt their hot breath behind him.
Bogeys at the 10th, 11th and 12th holes saw him surrender the lead and he could not recapture the brilliance that characterised his front nine; inevitably was reeled in by Thomas, the world No. 6 from Louisville, Kentucky who won the PGA Championship just a month ago.
Thomas won by three shots with a closing 66, his fifth win of a wonderful groundbreaking season. Leishman closed with a 70, one-under par, carding an astonishing 30-40 on the day, but finished outright third behind Thomas and Spieth, dropping a place with a bogey from the hazard at the last hole, his fifth of a faltering back nine.
The Victorian, ranked 30th in the world, is projected to be seventh in the Fedex Cup standings and now knows that he will be playing in the Tour Championship in Atlanta in a few weeks' time.
He had the final round tied for the lead with Thomas, and playing in the final group, and immediately showed his mettle by rolling in a five-metre birdie putt on the first hole to take the outright lead, then with a two-putt birdie on the par-five second and another long birdie putt on the fourth, he had a measure of control of the tournament.
The front nine was playing by far the easier; Spieth, playing in the group ahead, had begun birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.
But having had Spieth join him in the lead, Leishman surged again. At the fifth he hit it close and made birdie and then at the par-five seventh he laid up then wedged in tight for another to regain the outright lead, adding a sixth birdie of the day from three metres at the par-four ninth.
By then, his lead was two shots, but trouble struck immediately. At the 10th his drive went left forcing a penalty drop and resulting in a bogey, then a three-putt at the 11th cost him another shot, and he could not get up and down from a greenside trap at the 12th.
Spieth caught him and then Thomas roared past both of them in a three-man duel.
Leishman’s hopes ended at the par-four 17th. Two shots behind his playing partner Thomas, he pushed his approach long and left himself a difficult chip, ultimately making bogey. Then at 18 he went for the green in two and found the hazard in front of the putting surface. While he was able to hack his ball out with an abbreviated backswing, his shot slewed sideways and almost hit a cameraman who needed to leap out of the way.
It was a disappointing finish to say the least but Leishman took it in his phlegmatic way; he has two more tournaments to play and with high stakes, and he had spent the day trading blows with the best the game has to offer.
Leishman looked forward to some time at home with his family before starting again in Chicago. "You know, it was obviously a disappointing back nine for me,'' he said. "Got things going just the way I wanted to on the front and then a bad tee shot on 10. There was some tough holes out there but certainly not 10 shots tougher than the front nine.
"It's disappointing. But you know, with everything that's going on in the world, I mean, there's certainly worse things going on. You know, you have to put things into perspective. Obviously very disappointed. But we're good to go.''
His earnings on tour in 2016-17 have now passed $US4 million with the $US595,000 pay cheque from today.
Spieth, too, wilted on the back nine after having a shot at beating his good friend Thomas.
There is a week’s break before the BMW Championship in Chicago, the third of the four PGA Tour playoff events, but Leishman, Jason Day and Cameron Smith have all qualified. Day’s closing 66 left him 29th on the Fedex Cup standings, in the slot to reach the Tour Championship as well.
Rod Pampling’s season is over, the Queenslander finishing 79th in Boston to drop out of the top 70 in the standings.