This was not the US Open, but you would have thought so based on how the players in the last few groups were “folding, right and left.” Marc Leishman, the your Australian, posted a brilliant 62 quite early, and was sitting in the clubhouse at 14 under with all the overnight leaders still far out on the course. Neither Marc or those covering the event for CBS thought he would win with that score. What the heck happened?
Hunter Mahan posted a 61 early before Leishman came in with his 62. Players everywhere were making birdies, and many were at least 4under for the day. The course is not set-up to be difficult, and it was looking like we would have an exciting finish with “birdies flying everywhere.” But one after another, the players out on the course found a way to go backwards.
The most obvious was Charley Hoffman who was at 16under and a two shot lead with two holes to play. He drove it left in the water on #17, but then took what looked like a drop that made his next shot very difficult. He blew it over the green and made double bogey. Then on the short par 4 #18, he drove it way right (can anyone say “army golf”!), and made bogey to finish at 13 under and one shot out of a playoff. Then Tim Clark drives it just short of the par 15th green, hits a bad chip and makes par instead of easy birdie. Two holes later on #17, he hits a very bad putt and makes bogey. Honestly, these holes down the stretch are just not that hard at TPC River Highlands.
Then the overnight leader in the last group, Roland Thatcher, who started with bogeys everywhere on the front nine, makes a few birdies on the back nine, and gets back in the hunt. Obviously, Hoffman’s collapse brought several players back into the game with a few holes to go. Thatcher makes a great birdie on #17, and is one back going into #18. He rips his drive down the middle, and has only 125 yards left to the pin. The pin was cut just over the bunker, so if you were to make any mistake, it would have to be long so as to give yourself a putt to tie. But with a wedge in his hand, he appears to catch it just a little heavy, and it comes up about 10 feet short and in that front bunker. Instead of having a chance to make birdie and tie, he makes bogey. All during this last hour Leishman is expecting at best a playoff, so is hitting balls and a few putts to stay loose. He is not watching the TV, and getting updates from the cameraman who is over with him. WOW! How nice! Practicing your putting while those on the course are finding ways to give you your first win! Way to go Marc – post early, apply the pressure and watch’em fold!