ORLANDO – Marc Leishman’s 5-year-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 at 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 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 leaderboard before Leishman’s putt on 16.
Playing in just his second event since last October, McIlroy seemed a bit perplexed after beginning with two ordinary 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 due to a rib injury. Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson combined for six wins in his absence, with Johnson reaching world No. 1 status 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 thanks to a three-putt 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. “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. That’s for sure. 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 par and making par at the tough closing hole when he knew a bogey would likely 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 at the 2012 Travelers Championship, followed Jason Day’s 2016 triumph to became the second straight Australian to win this tournament and the first ever to do it in Palmer’s absence.
“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 at that point. 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 3-year-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,” Leishman’s wife, Audrey, said. “I’ll have to go order their outfits.”