Grades: Marc Leishman surges late to win 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Ending a week that went pretty much to script for the first six and a half days, Marc Leishman stole a win at the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational that nobody really saw coming. 

For much of the final round on Sunday, the story was whether Rory McIlroy could catch the 54-hole leaders Charley Hoffman and Kevin Kisner. McIlroy came close. He shot a 69 that included a bogey on 18. He fell one short of Kinser and Hoffman, who were both one back of Leishman at 11 under. 

Coincidentally, the big Australian played the par 4s and par 3s at even par for the week and played the par 5s this week in 11 including this long eagle on the 16th hole on Sunday that would turn out to be the tournament-winning shot.

“Around here, things can change so quick,” Leishman told NBC’s Steve Sands after the round. “You don’t have to hit that bad of a shot to make bogeys out there. You just have to stay right in it and not think what the end result is. I was able to do that. I holed some good putts there on the last few holes. It was a nice day, obviously the putter was there with me all week.”

Indeed, Leishman was No. 2 in the field in putting and only had three bogeys over his final 35 holes at Bay Hill. It was a consistent, impressive performance for someone who has had a consistent, impressive career. 

Leishman has not won since 2012, which was his only other PGA Tour win, but he has three top-10 finishes in major championships over the last few years including a playoff loss at St. Andrews for the Open Championship in 2015.

“I’ve been playing well all year,” Leishman told Sands. “I put the Callaway Epic driver in at the start of the year, and it’s been a game-changer. That’s been probably the biggest difference. The putter has been amazing this year. I haven’t played quite like I wanted to on Sundays, but today was the day.”

Leishman had not finished inside the top 15 in any PGA Tour tournament this calendar year, but he also had not finished outside the top 30. 

“It’s a really special week,” said Leishman. “Mr. Palmer was an awesome guy who I was lucky enough to meet. To honor him is huge. Another reason it’s so special this week is this is the first time I’ve won a tournament with my family here. It all came together. It’s an unbelievable day.”

Leishman had to miss the 2015 Masters after his wife was hospitalized and given a 5 percent chance to live due to acute respiratory distress and toxic shock syndrome. So for him, the win goes beyond the three-year PGA Tour exemption, Masters invite, massive paycheck and nod to Palmer.

As a long, tiring, interesting week draws to a close, it was a nice touch for someone like Leishman to win the first tournament at Bay Hill since Palmer’s passing last fall. He is someone who has been through a lot personally, almost all of it out of his control. But on the course, he took hold of a tournament that seemed to not want a winner and put another feather in his cap heading towards Magnolia Lane. Grade: A+

Jason Day (T23): NBC broadcaster Johnny Miller said earlier in the week that Day just is not putting as well as he did last season. That’s to be expected given that Day literally had the best putting season of the century last season. Day finished 24th in the field in strokes gained putting, which is good, but it’s not quite up to Day’s (recent) expectations. He has felt just a touch off all season long, but with Day it also always feels like he’s one round from going on a five-tournament rampage and taking two or three of them (including a major championship). Grade: B-

Rickie Fowler (12th): After a smoking 65 on Saturday to get within striking distance, Fowler stalled on Sunday and shot a 72. He had one great round and three average ones and still finished in the top 15. His tribute to Arnold Palmer all week with the shoes and the umbrella on his gear was tremendous, but it would have been even better if he’d been able to shut it down on Sunday for his second win in three starts.  Grade: B+

Rory McIlroy (T4): McIlroy gave it a brilliant run in the final round after a Saturday 65. He torched the field with his driver and made up for a bad start on Thursday with a scorching final 61 holes. McIlroy was 4 over when he stood on the third green on Thursday (his 11th of the day). He finished the week at 9 under, meaning he played his next 61 holes in 13 under.

McIlroy said all week he was trying to find something he knew was there. It looks like he stumbled upon it with just a handful of rounds remaining before the 2017 Masters. The problem for him remains the flat stick. He finished top three in the field off the tee and with his approach shots and 57th in putting. If he puts average, he wins loads of tournaments. Game on. Grade: A

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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