The all-Aussie pairing of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman have set their sights on Olympic gold in Tokyo after surviving a dramatic finish to claim the PGA TOUR’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans in Louisiana.
Starting the final round of foursomes one shot back of the South African team of Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen following a second consecutive 63 in the fourball format on Saturday, Smith and Leishman picked up birdies at two and seven to remain one back. A superb tee shot by Leishman at the par-3 ninth set up birdie to take a share of the lead and after the South Africans dropped a shot at the par-4 10th the Aussies took sole ownership of the top of the leaderboard.
That lead was soon extended to two when Leishman’s centre fairway drive and Smith’s soaring 7-wood to 20 feet set up a two-putt birdie at the par-5 11th but drama lay waiting just around the corner. Smith was forced to take a drop for an unplayable lie when Leishman’s tee shot at the par-4 13th rolled up behind the tall cypress tree in the left-centre of the fairway, the resulting bogey cutting the advantage to one.
A two-shot swing at the par-4 15th catapulted the South Africans back into the lead but the Aussies hit back at the very next hole in spectacular fashion. Attempting to drive the green at the 302-yard par-4 16th, Smith’s tee shot took a hard bounce left into the water flanking the left side of the hole to seemingly sink their chances. Yet after a delicate drop on the steep bank beside the green, Leishman delivered some of the short-game wizardry he is renowned for to chip in for birdie and once again draw level.
“I said to the boys, ‘Why don’t we just chip this in.’ It wasn’t the hardest chip in the world,” Leishman revealed post-round. “I didn’t think I was actually going to do it but the power of positive thinking is a pretty good thing. I won’t say it was a must make but it was certainly very helpful that it went in. I actually forgot to get my ball out of the hole I was so excited.”
The Aussies had the opportunity to seal the win in regulation but Leishman’s birdie putt slid just under the cup before another twist to commence the playoff. Oosthuizen flared his tee shot wide right into the lake to give the Aussies the upper hand, the pair safely plotting their way down the 18th hole to make par and add a further victory to their PGA TOUR career resumes.
Given confirmation this past week that Adam Scott would not seek selection, Smith and Leishman are now the two leading Aussie contenders on the Official World Golf Rankings and admit that an Olympic gold medal is a tantalising proposition.
“Yes, I’m all in,” Leishman declared three months out from the start of the Olympic golf competition. “Me too,” Smith added.
“I would love to contend for any medal, to be honest,” Leishman continued. “Obviously you want to go for gold but something I never ever thought I would do would be to have a chance to win an Olympic medal. I’m really excited about the chance of being there and contending for that.”
“Any chance I can get to put on the green and gold or a team shirt I’m all in,” said Smith, who was ranked 178th in the world at the time of the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics. “I’m a hundred percent.
“I was kind of bummed I didn’t get in the team four years ago. It was really a goal of mine. I’ll be thrilled if I’m there and contending on the weekend for a gold medal.”
Given the Aussie pairing combined with Leishman’s long-time caddie Matty Kelly and Kiwi Sam Pinfold on the bag for Smith, the Anzac spirit was front of mind for the four close friends as they prepared for the final round. A winner on Australia Day last year, Leishman admitted that to win on Anzac Day in the US made it even more memorable while Smith said his father Des had a sense that it would be significant from the other side of the globe.
“I was actually speaking to my old man last night and he said it’s a really good omen for us guys being up the top of the leaderboard on Anzac Day,” Smith said.
“My family went out to a dawn service yesterday morning and paid their respects so maybe we had a bit of good karma out there today because of that. Obviously we had three Aussies in our little crew and my caddie, ‘Pinner’, is a New Zealander, so the Anzac spirit definitely held up today.”
As for the glorious mullet that Smith promised his girlfriend Jordan would be sacrificed if he and Leishman were successful this week… ”I have to apologise to my girlfriend; it’s not going away. I feel like it’s part of me now.”
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana
1 Marc Leishman/Cameron Smith 63-72-63-70—268 $US1,069,300 each
33 Cameron Percy/Greg Chalmers 66-70-69-82—287 $US 15,466 each
Original Article pga.org.au