Herbert and Leishman Make it Australia Day With Brilliant Victories
WHAT a weekend that was for Australian golf. Lucas Herbert won the Dubai Desert Classic and Marc Leishman claimed the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. And both men did it the hard way, producing fabulous final rounds to storm through their respective fields.
Herbert produced a masterful late flourish to win the Dubai Desert Classic in a playoff on a day when the wind howled across the Emirates Golf Club and made many of the European Tour’s best players look pretty foolish. Herbert and Bezuidenhout began the day with little hope of winning, six shots off the lead. But with the leaders all struggling, Herbert and Bezuidenhout both shots rounds of 68 to finish the week tied on 279, nine under par.
When Bryson DeChambeau won here 12 months ago he did so with a total that was 24 under par. The average score for a round at the Desert Classic is 71.73 - but on this day it was nearer 75.
With the likes of DeChambeau and Eddie Pepperell frittering shots away, the final round quickly looked like it was going to turn into a two-horse race between Arjun Wu, of China, and South Africa’s Bezuidenhout. And what a contrast their rounds were. Wu parred the first six holes, birdied the seventh, dropped a shot at the eighth and parred the ninth to reach the turn in 35. At 11 under, he led Bezuidenhout by a shot, but the South African only had two holes to play and was enjoying the round of the day.
Bezuidenhout birdied the fourth and seventh to reach the turn in 33 and he picked up further shots at the 10th, 11th and 13th to move to 10 under without a single dropped shot on the card. Behind him, Wu was in all sorts of trouble at the 10th. A wild second at the par five meant he couldn’t reach the green in two. He hit a poor chip and walked off the green with a double bogey.
It meant that Bezuidenhout led by one with only the par-five 18th to play. It is played over water and, over the years, has been the scene of much drama. How would Bezuidenhout handle the pressure? He won the Andalucia Masters last year, but this tournament is at a different level.
Defending champion DeChambeau could barely hit a fairway or green in regulation but he was only two adrift as he walked off the 12th green. He had also been spoken to about slow play. The wheels continued to fall off for Wu. He had putted like a god all week, but followed his double-bogey at the 10th with another dropped shot at the 11th when he missed a short par putt.
Bezuidenhout split the 18th fairway with a glorious drive but decided to lay up with his second. It was a decision he would come to regret. He made his first mistake of the day with his third, which landed short of the flag, gripped and spun back into the lake. He was now playing his fifth shot, and left himself an 18-foot putt for a bogey. Bezuidenhout holed the putt. It all added up to 68. “I laid it up to my perfect yardage at the 18th but the ball didn’t come off the face quite right and ended up in the water,” Bezuidenhout said. “When we got to the green my caddie told me that I had putted brilliantly all week and just to focus on doing it again, and I struck the putt beautifully.”
DeChambeau joined him when he birdied the 13th, and even he must have been wondering how it had happened.
And from nowhere, Herbert, of Australia, climbed the leaderboard and came to the 18th on eight under. He hit the green in two and two-putted for a birdie, his third in the final six holes, to join Bezuidenhout and DeChambeau. Wu holed a brave par putt at the 12th and was still only one adrift. DeChambeau had a decent chance to lead on his own at the 14th but missed an eight-foot birdie putt.
Despite all his trials and tribulations, Wu came to the par-five 13th and gave himself a 12-foot birdie chance, but it slid by and then he missed the return to tumble back to seven under. DeChambeau is a Marmite golfer and he demonstrated precisely why at the par three 15th. The American missed the green way to the right towards an area where there was a large group of spectators. And, of course, there was no cry of “fore”. Justice was done when he failed to get up and down and fell back to eight under and another went at the 16th. Now he was two behind the clubhouse leaders. And his challenge came to a stuttering conclusion at the 17th. He went for the green, found a dreadful lie to the right, was unable to find the putting surface with his second, fluffed his third and took two more to get down. He was now six under and his race was run
England’s Tom Lewis wasn’t done with the tournament either. Despite five bogeys, he was just two adrift with three to play after three birdies. Unfortunately, he was unable to improve on his score and finished in a tie for third place on seven under with Dean Burmester, of South Africa, and Spain’s Adri Arnaus. It was good enough for Lewis to move back into the top 50 in the world rankings, giving him entry to all four majors plus the WGC events.
DeChambeau finished on five under after a 76, one behind Wu. When Herbert and Bezuidenhout tackled the 18th again in the playoff, Herbert found the water with his second but saved par with a glorious recovery. Back they went to the tee and this time Herbert hit the green in two and two-putted for a winning birdie.
“It was tough out there today,” said Herbert, who finished seventh 12 month the ago. "Anything under par was always going to be a really good score. To make the birdie at the last in regulation was special. And to win is the best thing ever, it's so good. We’ve got a bottle of scotch at home to celebrate back in Australia so I can't wait to get into that with the boys.
"There's some pretty average stuff happening in Australia right now with the fires and [fellow Australian golfer] Cam Smith said it a couple of weeks ago when he won - everybody around the world is behind us and hopefully we can keep fighting harder than what I did on that first playoff hole. That’s nothing compared to the firefighters and volunteers that are putting out the fires so I'm sending all my love back home.
IT SHOULD surprise nobody that Marc Leishman finally won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, leaving European superstars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm in the shade. Leishman loves this place and, before shooting a final round of 65 to take the title, he’d enjoyed five top-10 finishes, including two runners-up spots. He beat Rahm by a single shot after the Spaniard recovered from a horrific front nine to come within a whisker of winning this tournament for a second time.
Rahm dropped four shots in his opening five holes and required 39 strokes to reach the turn. But he dug deep on the way home. An eagle at the par-five 13th was followed by birdies at the 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th. Ultimately, the shot he dropped at the 15th hole ended up costing him the title.
Leishman took his total of victories on the PGA Tour to five and he later admitted that one of the reasons he loves this place is because it reminds him of home. His seven-under 65 matched the best final round by a Farmers Insurance Open champion since Torrey Pines underwent its first US Open renovation in 2001.
He putted superbly all week, but his performance on the greens in the final round was special. Very special. He made 151 feet, four inches worth or putts. His caddie Matty Kelly, who has been with Leishman throughout his entire PGA Tour career, described it as the best putting performance of Leishman's career. “As good as it gets on the greens,” Kelly said. “He was rolling early and then he just got so determined and honestly I just tried to get out of his way. It was like he was pitching a no-hitter in baseball. You don’t say anything, you just let it happen.”
Leishman needed every bit of it as his driving deserted him and he could barely find a fairway. On Sunday he was 70th in the field for Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee - there were only 79 golfers on the course!
“A bit of extra practice early in the week on the putting green. Kind of had a good feeling, but you never know what your week's going to be like. I grew up on this grass, I grew up on kikuyu fairways, poa greens,” Leishman said. “I saw that the guys out front didn't get off to the best start and then that really got my determination up. I've led here early in the last round maybe once or twice and let it slip. I was very determined to not let that happen again.”
Rahm began the day four ahead of Leishman, who also trailed Ryan Palmer and McIlroy. Eight-time champion Tiger Woods, getting his year up and running, was a shot behind. But Leishman made his move early, with birdies on three of his opening four holes. The par he made included a miss for birdie from four feet. Almost immediately he had the lead and from there he would not be caught. At one point he led by four before Rahm rediscovered his game.
In his last six holes the Spaniard made an eagle and four birdies and came to the 18th needing an eagle to force a playoff. He found the green in two but his attempt from 50 feet pulled up 12 inches short. Afterwards Rahm said he didn’t look at a leaderboard and thought a birdie would have been enough to tie.
“I saw Adam Scott finish with four straight birdies to give Justin Rose a run last year. I finished with a birdie and eagle to win by three, so I knew it was possible. I hit the shots I needed to,” Rahm said. “What people probably don't know is that on 18, after I made that putt on 17, I never looked at the scoreboard, so as far as I was concerned I was one back. So with a birdie, I was going to be in a playoff. The putt, that's a tough putt … So I did hit it with trying to make it with perfect speed thinking a two?putt would get into a playoff … but even if I hit the right speed, that putt doesn't go in, it was left of the hole the whole way, so it doesn't matter. Still, it's just a sour feeling.”
Leishman has come a long way since his early days on the Tour. “My first few years, you're just hoping to keep your card, just have a job. Once you get that first one … it kind of validates it if you can get two and then you can get more,” Leishman said. “I didn't really ever imagine I would be a five-time TOUR winner, to be honest. As a kid you don't expect this. You dream to be on the PGA TOUR one day and all of a sudden to have five victories, it's a great feeling. So I feel lucky. This is a pretty sweet victory just because I've come close here a few times. From my first year on TOUR I felt like this is a place I could win at and then to finally do it my 12th year on Tour is really satisfying.”
Woods, who finished with a 70 for a four round total of 279 and a tie for ninth place, was devastated to learn of the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. His caddie Joe LaCava learnt of the tragedy during the round but decided not to tell Woods, a close friend of Bryant, until he had finished.
“It's unbelievable, the reality that he's no longer here,” Woods said. “I just can't imagine what their entire family's going through right now. It's just shocking.” Woods and Bryant became close after starting their professional careers around a similar time frame. They often worked out together and would engage each other in discussion on what it took to be at the top of their chosen athletic careers.
“When he retired we'd work out together. I was always getting up early, he'd get up early, we'd work out,” Woods said. “We really connected on more the mental side of it, the prep, how much it takes to be prepared. For me, I don't have to react like he does in my sport, we can take our time, but you've still got to pay attention to the details and that's what he did better than probably any other player in NBA history. He paid attention to the details, the little things.
“The amount of hours that he spent in the gym in the offseason and during the summers to work on shots and do all the different things, it looked like it came natural to him on the court during game time, but he spent more hours looking at film and trying to figure out what's the best way to become better. That's where he and I really connected, because we're very similar.”
Along with the work ethic, Woods also revered Bryant’s toughness both mentally and physically - traits he shares with the five-time NBA champion.
“What made him so impressive is that he was dominant on the offensive side … we know that, but he would lock up on (defense). He played their best guard and shut 'em down for all 48 minutes. That's what made him so special, he played both ends of the court,” Woods said. "There are maybe two guys, three guys in the entire NBA history that you can say that, that would do that. He was up for that challenge. And one of the more impressive things that I've ever witnessed is when he ruptured his Achilles and he went to the foul line, made his shots.
“Ultimate toughness, ultimate competitor, and one of the most shocking, tragic days that I've ever been a part of in a very quick span here. Life is very fragile as we all know. You can be gone at any given time and we have to appreciate the moments that we have.”
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