NORTON — The eyes, the ears, the cameras were on noted friends Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
The hearts — those aware of what he’s endured off the course — lay with Marc Leishman.
In March of 2015, Leishman’s wife, Audrey, was taken to an urgent care clinic, ridden with flu-like symptoms that gave way to decreased blood pressure. Rushed to a hospital, Audrey was put into a coma after her organs began to cease functionality. Doctors put her chances of surviving at 5 percent.
Almost a week later, miraculously, Audrey awoke. Gradual improvements gave way to bigger ones, and in September of 2016 she was given a clean bill of health.
Suddenly, Marc’s back-nine duels didn’t feel so important.
Leishman emerged from the clubhouse firing in the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship Monday, carding a front-nine 30 and procuring a two-shot advantage as he made his turn. But birdies quickly ceded way to bogeys and while Leishman scuffled, Thomas surged, putting an end to the Aussie’s hopes of a third career PGA Tour victory, and first in the FedExCup Playoffs.
If there’s anything Leishman has learned in the past few years, it’s this: in the grand scheme of things, this beautiful, at times stupefying, game hardly matters.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” he said of his 1-under-par 70 and 13-under third-place finish. “But you know, with everything that’s going on in the world, I mean, there [are] certainly worse things going on. You have to put things into perspective. Obviously very disappointed. But we’re good to go.”
Leishman stands out whenever he finds himself atop a crammed leaderboard; the personable, gentle looking father amidst a sea of famed giants. Yet the 33-year-old calmly goes about his business, never too up, never too down, always to be counted upon for a thoughtful retrospective after his card has been signed.
Monday, it was a tale of two nines.
With a swath of challengers heartily giving chase on a rather forgiving opening stretch of holes, Leishman staved off the pack, namely playing partner and eventual champion Thomas. A birdie on No. 5 put Leishman alone on top, a lead he would extend four holes later when his ball rolled 9 feet into the cup on nine for 18 under.
“Everything,” he said on what was clicking during the opening nine. “I was hitting my irons really good, giving myself a lot of chances. Obviously, made a lot of putts. It was really good.”
So good, in fact, that from his ninth hole on Saturday through the first nine Monday, Leishman carded 17 birdies and not a single bogey.
But when the regression came, it came with a vengeance.
Trouble off the tee on No. 10 caused Leishman to incur a penalty stroke. Though he escaped with a bogey after a 14-foot-8-inch putt found bottom, the groove he had enjoyed over the past 48 hours was fading fast.
On No. 11, his putter finally failed him, a 7-foot par effort sliding by. The perplexing par-4 12th offered little reprieve, Leishman going from native area to bunker to fringe before two-putting for his third straight square.
Though he hung with Thomas for a few more holes, the damage was done.
“There’s two par 5s on the front and a drivable par 4 and a lot of holes where you’re hitting wedges,” Leishman said. “So if you are hitting it well, you can get a lot of chances. And then the back nine, you’ve got a couple — what feels like two or three — 500-yard par 4s. It’s just tough. It’s a hard nine.
“[I] got things going just the way I wanted to on the front and then [hit] a bad tee shot on 10. There were some tough holes out there but certainly not ten shots tougher than the front nine.”
A jump from 13th to seventh in the FedExCup standings did much to blunt the pain of Leishman’s shoddy closing stretch.
“I didn’t think I would get that high to be honest,” Leishman reflected. “Hopefully a good week at the BMW and who knows what can happen at the Tour Championship?”