It was as precise an approach shot as you could hope to see, and even though he didn’t believe it at the time, it was the sign that Australia’s Marc Leishman would go on to march to a six-stroke victory on Sunday in the $6.5-million Nedbank Golf Challenge.
He used his long, languid swing to deposit a sand-wedge three metres past the 13th hole, and the ball spun back towards the flag as if being pulled by a piece of string. It stopped just a fraction from the hole, and the tap-in birdie was probably enough to snuff out any remaining faint chance Sweden’s Henrik Stenson had of chasing him down.
“I definitely didn’t think I clinched it then,” he said. “But you never know with golf. Probably when the putt went in on 16 – that’s when I knew that I’d have to do something really dumb to lose it from there.”
The victory brought a tumultuous 2015 to an end on an appropriately high note after things had threatened to become awful in April: His wife Audrey was hospitalised with toxic shock syndrome while he was preparing for the Masters.
He spend 96 hours at her bedside, and although she beat the odds and survived, she’s still not entirely well. And then he lost in a four-man play-off in the Open Championship.
“I was going to be pretty happy to have this year to be over with, to be honest,” he said. “Obviously, Audrey got very sick, and I lost an uncle who I was very close to. Obviously The Open was good, but disappointing at the same time. It wasn’t easy, but this just tops off what was not a great year. I hope it’s a springboard for big things next year.”
He did it in some style: He made just three bogeys throughout the tournament on his way to his 19-under-par total for the 72 holes, while all those around him were stymied by having to give back shots to the course just as they appeared to be getting into the hunt.
That one of the bogeys came on the third hole in the final round could have shaken him, but it didn’t. “I knew I hadn’t had many bogeys for the week,” he said. “I knew that it was probably going to happen. I just had to not let it worry me. You don’t have to hit that bad a shot out here to make one. I knew other guys would probably be having bogeys – it’s just golf. You’ve got to deal with it and move on.”
That was the last time his serenity looked anything like disturbed as he made six birdies to firmly put any challenge to his victory in its place.
Stenson acknowledged that: “Marc played really solidly and shot five-under on a tricky day,” said the man who won in 2008. “I didn’t start off that great, came back a little in the middle of the round and needed something spectacular towards the end, and I couldn’t do that. All credit to him for the win – he’s a deserving champion.”