Marc Leishman was enjoying the ultimate luxury of a golfer standing on a driving range in Florida practicing and envisioning shots he’ll need to play at Augusta National.
“It’s great to be able to plan for things a bit better, just certain shots that you need on certain courses or holes and knowing that you’re going to be there,” he said in March. “It was hard last year practicing those shots not even knowing if I was going to be at Augusta.”
A year ago, Leishman wasn’t qualified for the Masters Tournament until he snapped a five-year winless streak at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to book his spot less than a month before.
“I guess there was that extra determination for me early last year because I wasn’t in Augusta, and it’s a course that I felt like that if I play well around there I have a chance to win it,” Leishman said when he returned to Bay Hill. “I’ve contended (at Augusta) before, and that was not one that I wanted to miss out on. It was very timely that I played well here.”
The victory at Bay Hill not only accomplished that goal but also proved to him that he belonged among the top 50 players in the world. He added a victory in September in the PGA Tour playoffs for his first multiple-win season, moving him for the first time inside the top 20, where he’s remained comfortably since.
“It had been five years since I won, so of course you’re trying to win every week, but I think winning here made me really realize I could win against the best players in the world,” he said. “Turning up to tournaments, I was just thinking about winning, really. I wanted to win more tournaments, because that was a really cool feeling to win here and I wanted to do it more often. So managed to do it one more time and be nice to do it a lot more frequently this year.”
It would be even nicer to do it in a major, where the 34-year-old Aussie has already proved he can contend. He’s finished sixth or better in three of the past four British Opens, including runner-up in a playoff at St. Andrews in 2015.
At the Masters, he was in the hunt in 2013 before finishing fourth playing on Sunday with eventual champion Adam Scott.
“I feel like I’ve got the tools, I’ve just got to get a course that suits me and play well on that week,” he said. “I feel like I’m closer than I’ve ever been, really, after the year I had and being in the mix and winning a couple of tournaments last year. And having a couple of losses that hurt, I feel like I learned a lot and I know what I have to do now. So just a matter of doing it.”
It’s hard to judge his Augusta record since 2013 because he had to withdraw on the eve of the Masters in 2015 because of a medical emergency that nearly killed his wife, and he missed the cut in an emotional return in 2016. He tied for 43rd last year after a Saturday 78 when a triple bogey on No. 15 wrecked his chances.
Leishman admits he wishes he’d been able to build more momentum at Augusta from his 2013 experience.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed, I’ve had spells of good play and I’ve had stretches of holes that have put me out of the tournament in five or six holes,” he said. “So I need to stop that. But I think every year I go there I feel like, if I play well and things go right, I have a chance. But again, you got the best players in the world and of the best players you got the guys who are playing the best at the top of the leaderboard. So it’s tough to contend there, but, yeah, it definitely is somewhere I would like to be this year is contending in that.”