Australian golfer Marc Leishman won his first PGA tour title since 2012 by claiming a last-gasp victory at the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational. En route to victory, the player fought off challenges from a high-caliber field, including new world No. 2, Rory McIlroy.
"I've been playing well all year," Leishman told CBS Sports at the conclusion of his final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. "I haven't played quite like I wanted to on Sundays, but today was the day."
And he put the victory down to his short game — his putting ranked second in the field — saying "obviously the putter was there with me all week." And the pinnacle of this strong putting performance came on the 16th hole during his final round. His longest putt of the year, measuring 51 feet, vaulted him into the tournament lead with an eagle on the par-five.The 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational featured a strong field, including three of the world's top 10 players, including last year's champion, fellow Australian Jason Day.
The focus of the final day had been on whether Rory McIlroy, who began the week as world No. 3, would be able to catch overnight leaders Charley Hoffman and Kevin Kisner. McIlroy had been on a fantastic run since halfway through his second round, shooting a 65 on Saturday to put himself well in contention.
The overnight leaders made the task a little easier for the chasing pack, as both shot a one-over-par 73 at the Bay Hill Club to finish 10 under. But McIlroy could only shoot a final-round 69 and finish one shot adrift of them in a tie for 4th place.
In contrast to Leishman, it was McIlroy's putter that let him down. He was ranked 57th in putting at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, while he ranked in the top three in tee-to-green categories, including driving the ball well over 350 yards on four occasions on the final day. For the world's best players, these are ominous signs of McIlroy hitting form just in time for the run of major tournaments.
But the story of the day turned out to be Australian Leishman.
He earned a check for $1,566,000 for victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in only his second win on the PGA tour. It will see him jumping up the world rankings to an estimated world No. 29, four places shy of his career-best No. 25. Leishman began the week at No. 62.
Perhaps more importantly for any golfer, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of the last opportunities to gain an invite to the coveted Masters tournament. The year's first major tournament will be held at Augusta National between April 6-9, and Leishman will be among the players gracing the first tee.
With three top-10s in majors since 2015 and a strong start to 2017, Leishman will now be seen as a genuine contender for that tournament.
Back at the Bay Hill Club on Sunday, there was one more reason to celebrate, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, to remember.
Arnold Palmer, winner of seven major titles, and "the most beloved figure in the game," died late last year at the age of 87. And Leishman took a moment after his win to pay tribute to the late golfer, after whom this invitational tournament is named.
"Mr. Palmer was an awesome guy who I was lucky enough to meet. To honor him is huge."
This invitational tournament, which began in 1979 and gained invitational status in 1984, sits alongside Palmer's Ryder Cup-style tournament for the top college golfers, the Arnold Palmer Cup. Yet the late golfer's impact on the world of golf reached far wider than a single tournament, something Leishman and his peers are right to pay tribute to.
Completing his final round with a three-foot tap-in for par, Marc Leishman secured this unexpected victory at the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational. In doing so, he marked the start of the post-Palmer era with an underdog champion worthy of the great man himself.
[Featured Image by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images]