Leish­man ral­lies

Aussie’s ea­gle putt holds off McIlroy charge

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Dan Kil­bridge @Dan_Kil­bridge USA TO­DAY Sports Kil­bridge writes for Golfweek, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work.

Aussie holds off a late charge by Rory McIlroy to win the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional and a Masters bid,

Marc Leish­man’s 5year-old son Har­vey just wanted a tro­phy.

“Let’s go get the tro­phy!” he shouted out­side the scor­ing trailer, not long af­ter overnight co-leader Kevin Kis­ner made par at No. 18 to seal the come­back win for Leish­man on Sun­day in the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional.

“We’ll get the tro­phy in a minute,” said Leish­man, who made a 50-plus-foot ea­gle putt at No. 16 and shot 3-un­der-par 69 dur­ing the fi­nal round. “It will be worth it. I prom­ise.”

Leish­man had al­ready waited five years for his sec­ond ca­reer vic­tory. He could wait a few more min­utes. And there’s no ques­tion he earned the tro­phy af­ter start­ing the fi­nal round three shots be­hind Kis­ner and Charley Hoff­man, ul­ti­mately top­ping each of them by a shot and fin­ish­ing 11 un­der for the week.

“Mr. Palmer was an awe­some guy who I was lucky enough to meet a few times at this tour­na­ment,” Leish­man said. “To honor him is huge.”

It was all eyes on Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill for much of Sun­day’s fi­nal round, as he cap­ti­vated the fans and played his way into a three-way tie atop the leader- board be­fore Leish­man’s putt on 16.

Play­ing in just his sec­ond event since Oc­to­ber, McIlroy seemed per­plexed af­ter be­gin­ning with two rounds of 74-71. He made his move Satur­day, shoot­ing 7-un­der 65 to get to 5 un­der for the tour­na­ment, still six shots off the lead.

He sent a mes­sage Sun­day, lest any­one for­got what he was ca­pa­ble of af­ter four months on the shelf be­cause of a rib in­jury. Justin Thomas, Hideki Mat­suyama and Dustin John­son com­bined for six wins in his ab­sence, with John­son reach­ing world No. 1 last month. Given what we saw this week­end, McIlroy looks ready to take an­other run at the throne with the Masters just three weeks away.

“I strug­gled for the first two days here,” McIlroy said. “I found it a lit­tle bit on the week­end, and it’s just nice to get to play again.”

McIlroy made back-to-back birdies on nine and 10 to get to 9 un­der and nearly chipped in for ea­gle on No. 16, the fans groan­ing as it slipped just past the cup for a tap-in birdie. It wouldn’t have made a dif­fer­ence due to a three­p­utt bo­gey on No. 18, but McIlroy cre­ated a buzz around Bay Hill that no one else in con­tention was ca­pa­ble of Sun­day af­ter­noon.

“I made a run,” said McIlroy, who moved to No. 2 in the world rank­ings and tied for fourth.

“I had two good chances on the last two holes. I thought that, walk­ing up to the last green, I saw Leish­man had made ea­gle on 16 to go to 11 (un­der), so I def­i­nitely gave (the putt on 18) a run. ... A bit too much of a run. But these things hap­pen.

“I’m pleased with how (the round) went.”

Leish­man stood tall as McIlroy made his run, play­ing the fi­nal seven holes in 2 un­der and mak­ing par at the tough clos­ing hole when he knew a bo­gey likely would mean a play­off. Kis­ner needed birdie on No. 18 but put his ap­proach shot in the bunker and made par. He and Hoff­man each shot 1-over 73 in the fi­nal round.

“Not happy,” Kis­ner said. “I had it right there in the palm of my hand to win, and I didn’t get it done.”

Leish­man, who last won in the 2012 Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship, fol­lowed Ja­son Day’s 2016 tri­umph to be­came the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Aus­tralian to win this tour­na­ment.

“There weren’t too many leader­boards out there, which is a good thing,” Leish­man said. “I saw (Kis­ner) got to 13 (un­der) at one point. I can’t re­mem­ber what score I was on. On a course like this, it’s hard. Just one bad shot can jump up and you can make dou­ble very eas­ily. … It was a tough day, and I’m just lucky that I played well and made the putts when I had to make them.”

Now Har­vey and Leish­man’s 3year-old son Oliver will have an­other tro­phy around the house. And they’ll soon re­ceive a new ad­di­tion to their wardrobes with dad earn­ing a Masters bid.

“Au­gusta, par-3 con­test,” said Au­drey Leish­man, the boys’ mother. “I’ll have to go or­der their out­fits.”

REINHOLD MATAY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Marc Leish­man shows off the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional tro­phy to his sons, Har­vey and Oliver.

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