It’s been an eventful and testing year for Australian golfer Marc Leishman, but he had the energy to end it on a high and claim the biggest paycheque of his career in winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City by six strokes on Sunday.
With home favourite Jaco van Zyl tumbling down the leaderboard – despite eagling the second he slumped to a six-over-par 78 – Leishman’s only challenger in the final round was world number seven Henrik Stenson, who had overcome severe flu to lead the first two rounds.
But after some early struggles, Leishman’s precise iron play took the wind out of Stenson’s sails, with the 2008 champion only managing to post a level-par 72 in stifling heat as the eventual winner produced some superb golf with six birdies in the last 12 holes.
Leishman began the year ranked 46th in the world after top-10 finishes in the Open and two World Golf Championships events in 2014, but his early season was severely disrupted by his wife Audrey suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, going into toxic shock and only being given a 5% chance of survival.
Happily she made it through and Leishman played in the Open Championship in July and lost out in the playoff with winner Zach Johnson and South African Louis Oosthuizen.
“I’ve been pretty happy to get this year over with, obviously with Audrey being very sick and I lost an uncle who was very close to me. The Open was very good but disappointing, so this win tops off the year for me. It’s pretty great, an awesome feeling and I’m very happy. It’s the biggest paycheque I’ve ever won so I’ll have to hang it on the wall of our new house,” a delighted Leishman said after he became just the second Australian to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge after Robert Allenby, who beat Stenson in a playoff in 2009.
With the demise of Van Zyl confirmed on the ninth, where he three-putted for bogey to add to the double-bogey he had on the sixth and another dropped shot on eight, the recipient of the $1.25 million winner’s cheque was obviously going to be either Leishman or Stenson.
But Leishman spun a sand-wedge back to within a few inches of the hole for birdie on the par-four 13th and the final nail in the coffin was hammered in when he birdied the 15th from 15 feet and Stenson made bogey after a wayward drive meant he had to chip out of thick bush.
Another birdie on the par-three 16th and two pars coming in meant Leishman completed the round of the day with his 67.
“Henrik is an awesome player who I knew could come back with five birdies in nine holes and two or three up is not that many over nine holes on this course. I knew that trouble waited on every shot and you don’t need to hit that bad a shot to get bogey here. It was probably only after the putt on 16 that I knew I would have to do something really dumb to lose it, but fortunately I was able to be more conservative,” Leishman said.