MARANA, Ariz. – Marc Leishman hasn’t had many opportunities in recent years to enter the final round of a golf tournament as the solo leader.
“There’s been a few here and there,” the 39-year-old Ripper GC member said. “But it’s been a year or two.”
He’ll get to reacquaint himself with the pressure now after shooting a second-round 66 to move to 11 under at LIV Golf Tucson. That gives him a two-shot lead over Sergio Garcia going into Sunday’s final round at The Gallery Golf Club.
“Obviously you play early in the tournament to try to put yourself into a good position, and I’ve played well enough to do my first part of the job,” said Leishman, who’s seeking his 14th career pro victory. “But there’s probably more than half the work to do tomorrow.”
In the team competition, Garcia’s Fireballs GC have slept on the lead as recently as last October when they won LIV Golf Bangkok. Unlike that tournament, when the Fireballs entered the final day with a seven-shot lead, their lead this time is much smaller.
Thanks to Garcia’s 6-under 65, Eugenio Chacarra’s 67 and Carlos Ortiz’ 68, the Fireballs are at 22 under – just one shot ahead of Phil Mickelson’s HyFlyers GC. Cameron Smith’s Ripper GC are another four shots back.
“Obviously super happy about how the team has done the first two days, even more so today. Very, very strong day,” said Garcia, the Fireballs captain. “… We still have to do more of the same. If we think that it’s done, that it’s over, then we’re going to get passed left and right.”
Indeed, with three counting scores, the potential for volatility on the team leaderboard was on full display Saturday. First-round leaders Torque GC had the least productive day of any of the 12 teams and fell into a tie for eighth. At one point midway in the second round, four teams shared the lead before the Fireballs grabbed the advantage down the stretch.
“We’ve seen over the past 10 events how quickly leaderboards can change out on the golf course with a team,” said Oosthuizen, whose Stinger GC is seven shots back. “Five, six behind is not a lot from the team aspect. You need three guys to play really well, and hopefully we can put three good rounds together tomorrow.”
The HyFlyers had three terrific rounds on Saturday to shoot a cumulative 15 under, best of any team, thanks to Brendan Steele’s 65, Cameron Tringale’s 66 and Mickelson’s 67. The HyFlyers had a podium finish last year in Chicago but now find themselves with their best chance to claim a team trophy.
“We’re going to have to be really aggressive,” said Steele, who joined LIV Golf this season as one of six new members. “We’re going to have to keep doing what we did today because obviously the scores were really good today.”
Leishman also may have to be aggressive in order to fend off his chasers, as eight players are within four shots of the lead.
One of those is Charles Howell III, tied for third at 8 under with Tringale, Steele and Stinger GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen. Howell won the season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba with a final-round 8-under 63. Is there another 63 out there for the taking on the South Course?
“Probably not for me, maybe for someone else,” said Howell, who plays for Crushers GC. “I think the hole locations are really difficult. I think it’s really hard to get the ball close, the slope and the greens and all that. You’ve got to putt really well to do that because you’re not going to hit close very often. You’ve got to take advantage of the par 5s to do it.
“It may be out there but it’s going to be one heck of a round to do it.”
Leishman realizes he’ll enter Sunday with a target on his back.
“There’s a lot of great players that are just behind me,” he said. “It’s a course where you can make a lot of birdies, and if you’re a little bit off, you can make a lot of others. So you can lose a lead quickly, or you can extend it. I just need to do my job, hopefully do as good as I can, and see where we end up at the end of the day.”
Here are the standings and counting scores for Rd. 2 of the team competition at LIV Golf Tucson. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.
1. FIREBALLS GC (-22): Sergio Garcia 65, Eugenio Chacarra 67, Carlos Ortiz 68 (Rd. 2 total: -13)
2. HYFLYERS GC (-21): Brendan Steele 65, Cameron Tringale 66, Phil Mickelson 67 (Rd. 2 total: -15)
3. RIPPER GC (-17): Marc Leishman 66, Matt Jones 67, Cameron Smith 70 (Rd. 2 total: -10)
T4. STINGER GC (-15): Branden Grace 67, Louis Oosthuizen 68, Dean Burmester 68 (Rd. 2 total: -10)
T4. IRON HEADS GC (-15): Danny Lee 67, Kevin Na 67, Scott Vincent 73 (Rd. 2 total: -6)
T6. CRUSHERS GC (-13): Charles Howell III 65, Anirban Lahiri 68, Paul Casey 72 (Rd. 2 total: -8)
T6. SMASH GC (-13): Matthew Wolff 69, Brooks Koepka 69, Chase Koepka 71 (Rd. 2 total: -4)
T8. RANGEGOATS GC (-12): Bubba Watson 66, Talor Gooch 69, Harold Varner III 70 (Rd. 2 total: -8)
T8. TORQUE GC (-12): Mito Pereira 68, Sebastian Munoz 71, David Puig 72 (Rd. 2 total: -2)
10. 4ACES GC (-10): Dustin Johnson 68, Pat Perez 70, Peter Uihlein 72 (Rd. 2 total: -3)
11. MAJESTICKS GC (-8): Ian Poulter 67, Henrik Stenson 68, Sam Horsfield 70 (Rd. 2 total: -8)
12. CLEEKS GC (-5): Richard Bland 69, Laurie Canter 69, Bernd Wiesberger 70 (Rd. 2 total: -5)
NEW CONSECUTIVE BIRDIE STREAK
After finishing Friday’s first round with six consecutive birdies, Stinger GC Captain Oosthuizen birdied his opening hole in Saturday’s second round. The seven consecutive birdies set a new LIV Golf record.
Oosthuizen bogeyed his next hole before bouncing back with three consecutive birdies, giving him 10 birdies in an 11-hole stretch.
LEISHMAN’S EAGLE START
Tournament leader Marc Leishman got off to a flying start by holing out for eagle at the par-5 first. He built on that momentum and was 5 under through eight holes before playing even-par golf the remainder of his round.
“To chip in on the first hole is always a nice feeling,” Leishman said. “… It would be nice to get off to a start like that tomorrow.”
OOSTHUIZEN’S DRIVER OFF THE DECK
Trying to gain some ground on Leishman, Oosthuizen decided to hit driver with his second shot at the 601-yard par-5 17th. “That was the only way I could get there,” said Oosthuizen, who had just over 290 yards to the green.
Oosthuizen’s shot wound up in the greenside bunker and he ultimately settled for par.
“I did it actually in the practice round, and I hit it to 20 feet,” Oosthuizen said. “So I was very positive, and I just pulled it a little bit. Saw the number was two yards different than the practice round and I’m like, ‘I’m going again.’”
Said Leishman: “That driver came out of the bag real quick.”
HOWELL IN A GROOVE
After winning by four shots at LIV Golf Mayakoba, Charles Howell III is in good position to become the first player to win two LIV Golf tournaments.
He started this week’s tournament with a bogey and a double bogey in his first four holes. Since then, he’s a bogey-free 11 under, including his 6-under 65 on Saturday that tied for low round of the day.
“This is a funny game,” said Howell after finishing a post-round range session. “I was 3-over par for the first four holes. Luckily righted the ship a bit. Listen, this is a crazy game and I’ve played it long enough to know it well.”
SERGIO GOES CONVENTIONAL
Sergio Garcia is tied for fifth in the field in putting this week. He’s utilizing more of a conventional putting grip instead of leaning heavily on the claw grip. “I’m very happy with the way I rolled the ball, even some of the putts that missed,” Garcia said.
Driving distance – Jediah Morgan, 352.8-yard average
Longest drive – Jediah Morgan, 385.4 yards (5th hole)
Driving accuracy – Phil Mickelson, Matthew Wolff, Abraham Ancer, 92.86% (13 of 14)
Greens in regulation – Harold Varner III, 88.89% (16 of 18)
Scrambling – Charles Howell III (6 of 6), Eugenio Chacarra (5 of 5), Cameron Tringale (3 of 3), 100%
Fewest putts – Charles Howell III, 24 putts
Most birdies – Matt Jones, Sergio Garcia, 8
Bogey-free rounds – Charles Howell III (65), Cameron Tringale (66), Eugenio Chacarra (67), Phil Mickelson (67)