Marc Leishman Secures Memorable Victory at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THE King is dead, long live The King. The Arnold Palmer Invitational took place at Bay Hill for the first time since the great man died last year at the age of 87. And how he would have approved of the first instalment held in his memory, eventually won in dramatic fashion by Marc Leishman, of Australia, thanks to a 50-foot eagle putt at the 16th.
Everybody had stories to tell about Palmer. He was generous, he loved golf fans, he adored the game of golf, but most of all he enjoyed watching those who played the game the way he once did – attacking flags, holing outrageous putts. And there was plenty of that in evidence at his beloved Bay Hill. He may even have raised a smile at the idiotic behaviour of Cody Gribble, a young American PGA Tour player who decided it would be a good idea to walk up to an alligator and grab its tail – fortunately for Gribble, the gator chose not to take off his arm
Palmer would have marvelled at the play of Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, whose third-round 65s rocketed them back into contention. And he would have enjoyed watching Tyrrell Hatton, the 25-year-old Englishman who, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is the brother of former boxer Ricky Hitman Hatton. For the record, they are not brothers. They are not related in any way. But Hatton the golfer does possess a huge and heart and a warrior spirit, just as Ricky did.
Having finally won his first tournament last year, Hatton's game has further improved – and his confidence is sky-high. And little wonder. He made his debut on the PGA Tour at the Honda Classic, where he finished fourth, and then took part in the WGC-Mexico Championship, where he was 10th. Two starts, two top-10 finishes and no score worse than 72, which he shot in the final round of the Honda, when the heat was really on.
And then on to Bay Hill and, lo and behold, in contention again alongside Matt Fitzpatrick, another young Englishman with the golfing world in his hands. The pair began the final round in a tie for third place, three shots behind Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman. Could they catch them? Could McIlroy continue his charge through the field and claim an unlikely victory from five shots back?
Well, Rory certainly tried his best. He took the lead after hooking his approach around a tree, over the water and then nearly holing out for an eagle at the 16th. He had a 30-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead on the 18th, and went for it, rolling the ball eight feet past the hole, and missing the return for a 69 to finish two shots behind.
“These things happen," McIlroy said. "But I'm pleased with how I went. Ten under for the weekend around here is good scoring, and I can take a lot of positives from it going into next week.” He now goes to Texas to play in the WGC Dell World Matchplay before heading to Augusta. His game is in great shape for Augusta.
Towards the end of the round four players had a chance to win, but it was Leishman's eagle putt at the 16th that turned out to be pivotal. He followed it with pars at the 17th and 18th to hold on by a single shot, but only after a great up and down at the final hole to save his par. He then had a nervous wait to see whether Kisner and Hoffman could catch him, but the Australian's 69 turned out to be good enough.
There was no Palmer beside the 18th green waiting to shake Leishman's hand. “You see guys win and he's waiting there on the back of the green," Leishman said. "And to not have that is obviously very sad, but to win here is just a dream come true.” The win also lifted Leishman's world ranking and secured his invitation to Augusta. Instead of receiving the traditional blue blazer, the winner this year received a red cardigan similar to that worn by Palmer in his prime. Leishman finished at 11-under 277 and earned a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Kisner and Hoffman wasted chances to win. Kisner had a three-shot lead at the turn, but failed to make another birdie and saw his lead starting to disappear when he dropped a shot at the 12th. Kisner's birdie chip at the 15th green hit the flag, his approach to the 16th from a fairway bunker turned away to the right and finished behind a bunker, leaving him no chance of getting up-and-down. His flop shot came up short and into the bunker, and he had to scramble for par. Needing birdie to force a playoff on the 18th, he missed the fairway and the green to the left. He closed with a 73. "I had it right there in the palm of my hand to win, and I didn't get it done," Kisner said.
Hoffman rallied from a 39 on the front nine to catch Kisner, only to three-putt for par on the 16th and then drop another shot from the bunker on the 17th. He made birdie on the 18th that gave him a tie for second.
"I am proud of fighting back and making a birdie on the last to finish second, but obviously not what I wanted," Hoffman said.
Leishman finished at 11-under 277 and earned a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
And Hatton? He shot a 71 to finish tied for fourth with McIlroy.
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