3 fairways, 8 birdies?! Why Marc Leishman’s Farmers win was so unlikely

January 27, 2020

On Sunday, Marc Leishman stepped to the 18th tee at Torrey Pines’ South Course and did something he’d struggled to do all afternoon: he hit the fairway. His drive was a beauty, 299 yards down the left side — just his third fairway hit on the day. After a layup, Leishman hit a short wedge inside six feet and holed the putt for birdie — his eighth of the day. It would prove to be the deciding factor in the Aussie’s one-shot victory over Jon Rahm.

It’s rare for a player to make more birdies than fairways in a round, never mind eight versus three. But Leishman’s final round was a testament to taking advantage of your opportunities. Diving into the numbers tells us the following:

1. Leishman’s three Sunday fairways was 79th out of 79 players who made the cut. Every other player hit more than he did.

2. Leishman’s closing seven-under 65 was tied for the low round of the day with Charley Hoffman, who wasn’t exactly hitting targets off the tee, either, finding just seven fairways.

3. Leishman managed to find 14 greens in regulation, which reminds us that these guys are damn good from the rough and also that this is a tamer setup than it will be for the U.S. Open in 2021.

So how did he do it? With his irons and with his putter. Leishman gained 2.9 strokes on the field approaching the green, which was the fourth-best total of the day. And once he stepped on the green, he was lethal, taking just 25 putts on the day, pouring in eight of his 14 birdie looks and tallying 151 feet of made putts. That added up to 4.8 strokes gained with his putter, best in the field.

Leishman attributed the inaccuracies to the size of the moment. “It might look funny because earlier in the week my Callaway, the Mavrik — second week in the bag — was amazing, driving it the best I’ve ever driven it, and then pressure does funny things. Under pressure things can happen, and they did.”

If there’s a lesson here for the everyday golfer, it’s that not all missed fairways are created equal. Had Leishman been under trees or in penalty areas, he’d had been toast. Instead he was still in position to fire at greens and wound up with trophy in hand at the end of the day.

“I missed in the right spots, was able to still score and I feel pretty lucky that I could win hitting it in some of the spots that I did today.”

Got that? If you’re going to miss, miss in the right spots. Oh, and make a 41-footer on the opening hole, plus seven other birdie putts. Do that and you, too, can win a PGA Tour event.

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