Farmers Insurance Open Preview, Pick & Analysis
Marc Leishman returns to Torrey Pines for the defence of his Farmers Insurance Open title. The Australian had struggled horribly since the game returned after lockdown but he finally rediscovered something approaching his best form in Hawaii as the PGA Tour season resumed in 2021.
Leishman, who is one of the most popular players on Tour, claimed his fifth victory 12 months ago by a shot. Appropriately enough, it came on Australia Day on a course that he says reminds him of home. The Torrey pine trees that the course takes its name from are not the only ones adorning the course. Multiple eucalyptus trees, natives of Australia, dot the course and the fairways and the greens use grass seen everywhere Down Under.
So it is no wonder that Leishman feels so comfortable here. And after 10 years and two runner-up finishes, the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year finally won in impressive fashion. His seven-under 65 matched the best final round by a champion since Torrey Pines underwent its first U.S. Open renovation in 2001.
He led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week, making more than 150 feet of putts on the final day. His caddie Matty Kelly, who has been with Leishman his entire Tour career and grew up in the same small town, called it the best putting performance of his career. “It was 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.”
It was just as well that his putter was on song because Leishman could barely hit a fairway during that final round. “A bit of extra practice early in the week on the putting green definitely helped me,” he said. “I 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. 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.”
Starting four shots off the lead held by Jon Rahm, a previous winner, Leishman knew he had his work cut out for him. Ryan Palmer was three ahead and Rory McIlroy also started ahead of the Australian. Tiger Woods, an eight time winner at Torrey Pines was a shot behind.
But Leishman made his intentions clear early with birdies on three of his opening four holes. The par he made included a miss for birdie from four feet. He found himself leading and at one one point he was four in front of Rahm.
But the Spaniard wasn’t finished. In his final six holes Rahm made an eagle and four birdies, but a bogey on the 15th hole would ultimately prove costly. He came to the par-five 18th needing an eagle to tie after Leishman made a clutch birdie before him. He had a chance from 53 feet, similar to the putt he made in 2017 on the way to victory, but it pulled up a foot short. Afterwards Rahm said he didn’t look at a leaderboard and thought that a birdie would have been enough to tie. He had failed to see Leishman’s birdie posted.
“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 was hitting balls on the nearby first hole on a makeshift range set up by Tour officials in case extra holes were needed. When Rahm’s putt pulled up short Leishman was overjoyed.
“My first few years on the Tour, 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.”
In 2016 Leishman had to pass up a spot at the Rio Olympic Games on doctors’ advice. His wife Audrey was still overcoming a near fatal bout of sepsis and Leishman couldn’t risk contracting anything to put her immune system at risk. “I hope to win again and contend in the big events and the majors. And I have Olympic aspirations. I would love to be there in Tokyo … it is a priority for me. I would love to represent my country and hopefully win a medal for my country. My game is in a good spot right now and I hope to take advantage.”
The tournament was won in 2015 and 2018 by Jason Day, in 2016 by Brandt Snedeker, in 2017 by Jon Rahm, in 2019 by Justin Rose and last year by Leishman.
Jon Rahm. Just loves this place.
Rory McIlroy. Back to his brilliant best.
Marc Leishman. Has finally found some form again
Jon Rahm. Has a great record here
Rory McIlroy. Looking to put down a marker on the PGA Tour
Marc Leishman. Thoroughly likeable Australian
Sungjae Im. A machine.
Martin Laird. Is a contender again
Louis Oosthuizen. Best swing in the business
Brooks Koepka. Still looking for something
Hideki Matsuyama. Overdue
Ryan Palmer. Enjoying something of an Indian summer
Francesco Molinari. Simply desperate for a big week
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