LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Marc Leishman doesn’t remember many golf rounds, but he’ll never forget the first time he played with Tiger Woods.
It was back at the 2009 BMW Championship and Leishman entered the final round seven shots back of the 14-time major winner. That Sunday at Cog Hill, Leishman shot 2-under 69 and never came close to challenging Woods, who closed in 68 to win by eight shots over Leishman and Jim Furyk.
“I remember being really, really nervous on the first tee, which I’m not generally a nervous person, but that was a new thing for me,” Leishman said. “I remember that shot he played on 9. You see it replayed played on the Golf Channel. (He) drove it right, hit it behind the tree. (I had a) makeable eagle putt … and we both end up making birdies.”
Eight years later, Leishman will have his chance to close out a lead at the BMW Championship. After a 3-under 68 in Saturday’s third round at Conway Farms, the 33-year-old Aussie holds a five-shot lead over Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.
Entering Saturday, Leishman had a three-shot cushion after rounds of 62-64. And while he hit a week-low 11 greens as the surfaces firmed up in Round 3, he offset his two bogeys with five birdies, including three from 13 feet and out, to expand his lead.
It wasn’t quite as pleasing as the opening 62 he fired on Thursday, but it was close.
“Today was almost as satisfying, going into a Saturday with a lead to play the way I did, gave myself a lot of chances,” Leishman said. “Probably didn’t putt quite as well as earlier in the week, but still made a lot of putts.”
Through 54 holes, Leishman ranks second in strokes gained-tee to green and fourth in strokes gained-putting.
“Leish is playing spectacular,” Day said. “Quite happy with how he’s playing because we’re on the Presidents Cup team together. But saying that, I mean, he’s going to be very difficult to beat tomorrow. I got to come out and play really good golf because he’s not making any mistakes.”
Leishman has a chance to enter the Tour Championship with a chance to control his own destiny when it comes to capturing the FedEx Cup and its lucrative $10 million bonus. The top 5 players entering next week’s playoff finale at East Lake can also capture the FedEx Cup by winning, no matter what anyone else does.
A win this week would move Leishman to fourth.
“A lot of tournaments you put three rounds together, may not be in a row,” Leishman said. “(It’s) very easy to throw a mediocre round in there. Tomorrow, I’ve got to try not to do that.”
As Leishman has experienced many times before, it’s tough to close out wins on the PGA Tour. He’s won twice on Tour, at the 2012 Travelers and this year at Bay Hill. But he’s had his share of tournaments that he’s let slip away, too.
Like last week at the Dell Technologies Championship two weeks ago at TPC Boston. Leishman shared the third-round lead with Justin Thomas and then shot 30 on the front nine in the final round to take the outright advantage.
But he played the back nine in 40 and a closing 70 left him in solo third, four shots back of Thomas.
“Generally I said to my wife if I have a bad round just give me 10 minutes and I’ll be all right,” Leishman said. “That one probably took a day. It stung a bit. … Going into the back nine with a lead, even though you got Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on your tail, when you’re leading it’s hard to get overtaken on the back nine.
“That’s a pretty disappointing feeling and one that, you know, (and I’ll) be doing my very best tomorrow not to happen again.”
This week at Conway Farms, none of his first three rounds have been anywhere close to bad. And he’ll look to keep it that way on Sunday, much like Tiger did back in 2009.