Leishman holds off McIlroy to bag Bay Hill title
Leishman holds off McIlroy to bag Bay Hill title
One-putting the last four holes at Bay Hill, the 33-year-old Aussie surged late to claim his first US victory since 2012.
“It just all came together,” Leishman said. “To do it here is really good. It was just an unbelievable day.”
Leishman fired a final-round three-under par 69 to stand on 11-under 277 for 72 holes at the famed Orlando, Florida, layout in the first event since the death of tournament namesake Palmer, the golf legend who had hosted the event annually.
“Mr. Palmer was a very special guy,” Leishman said. “To win it in honor of him was huge.”
Americans Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman, co-leaders entering the final round, each fired 73s to share second on 278 with McIlroy and England’s Tyrell Hatton sharing fourth on 279 and Canada’s Adam Hadwin on 280.
McIlroy will jump past Australia’s Jason Day to become world No.2 on Monday with American Dustin Johnson still atop the rankings, but a closing bogey ended his title bid in what became a four-man shootout down the final holes.
“Around here, things can change so quick,” Leishman said. “You’ve just got to stay right in it, not think about what’s the end result, just focus on what you’ve got to do. I was focused on my putts and luckily they all went into the hole.”
Leishman’s first victory in front of his family was enough to qualify him for the Masters in three weeks at Augusta National, where he shared fourth in 2013.
His only prior US PGA victory had come in the 2012 Travelers Championship.
His lone European Tour title was at the 2015 Nedbank Challenge, although he was a British Open runner-up in 2015, losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson.
McIlroy tapped in for birdie at the par-5 16th to join Hoffman one off Kisner’s lead, but Kisner found the rough at the par-3 14th and missed an eight-foot par putt, leaving the trio deadlocked in front as the drama unfolded.
Leishman, who was one adrift, jumped into the lead at the par-5 16th when he reached the green in two and then sank his eagle stunner to leapfrog the leaders and take the top spot at 11-under.
McIlroy stumbled at 18, three-putting from 31 feet for a closing bogey, and Hoffman faltered at 17, finding a bunker off the tee and missing an eight-foot par putt to fall back. Not even his fourth birdie at 18 in as many days could salvage his hopes.
Leishman was short of the green with his second shot at 18, but pitched the ball three feet from the cup and tapped in the tense par putt to reach the clubhouse one ahead of Kisner.
In the last group, Kisner sent his approach at 18 into a bunker and needed to hole it to force a playoff. When the ball rolled four feet wide, Leishman had the victory.
Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs
- Asian player of the year just back from injury could follow path walked by Mohamed Salah
- Despite winning the title Al-Hilal season has been a mixture of good and so-so
DUBAI: In the end, Omar Khribin returned in triumph. But not before a season of ups and downs.
The Syrian forward was named Asia’s best player last November, but there was always the sense that he was not appreciated beyond the Saudi Professional League were he plays for newly crowned champions Al Hilal.
For club and player, this has been a defining season.
Before the league title was wrapped up with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Fateh, thanks to Khribin’s hat-trick, there was a traumatic AFC Champions League campaign to endure. Having reached the final of the continent’s premier competition as recently as November, an exit from the 2018 edition in the group stage has been hard to stomach for supporters dreaming of a third title.
It has been a curious season for the champions, one that saddled contrasting AFC Champions League campaigns, seen a Saudi Arabia World Cup qualification and of course a managerial departure.
Al-Hilal dispensed of the service of Ramon Diaz on February 20, a day after a 1-0 loss to Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League, a seemingly harsh move considering his previous achievements in the competition not to mention a league title last year.
In truth, performances had dipped below what Al-Hilal’s supporters and, crucially, board expect. There was also an exit from the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah; the loss to Esteghlal in their second Group D fixture (having drawn the first 1-1 at home to Al-Ain) was the final straw.
The incoming interim manager Juan Brown had to do without his side’s most potent weapon, and it is not stretching a point say that Khribin’s absence for three months through injury played a major role in Al-Hilal’s inconsistencies.
The 24-year-old had played a pivotal role in the club reaching the ultimately disappointing final against Urawa Red Diamonds last year, and his leadership and goals have been missed this time around.
In 2017, his 10 goals were a competition high, helping cement his reputation as one of Asia’s most feared strikers and, along with his contribution to Syria’s gallant stab at World Cup qualification, earned him the Asian Player of the Year award.
Suddenly, Khribin was the continent’s hottest property, less than a year after joining Al-Hilal from the UAE’s Al-Dhafra.
So where do Al Hilal and Khribin go from here?
Mohamed Salah’s astonishing first season at Liverpool has rocketed him into the bracket of world’s best players, and is now being held up as an example for other Middle Eastern players.
Khribin, at only 24, is one of the select few who can potentially carve out a career abroad should he choose to. While others like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout have so far shunned interest from foreign clubs, could Khribin be the next Arab to make a big move to one of Europe’s elite leagues?
So far there has been no indication that the player wants a move, and Al-Hilal will certainly be doing all they can to keep hold of their prized possession as they look to maintain their domestic dominance and reassert their continental credentials in 2019.
First order of business would be to confirm a full time manager, and barring injuries the new man will still be working with the best squad in Saudi Arabia, and one of the strongest in Asia.
The Moroccan Achraf Bencharki has been a successful addition to the ranks of foreign players that include Ali Al-Habsi, the Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti and the Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi, as well as the injured and much-missed Brazilian Carlos Eduardo.
Captain and Hilal stalwart Yasser Al-Qahtani may have announced his retirement after last week’s title triumph, but the club remains home to some of the best local talent around, many of whom will represent their country at the World Cup in Russia.
No doubt more ingoing and outgoing transfers will be conducted during the summer.
The title win has eased the pain of the Champions League exit, and if Al-Hilal can hold on to their best players, above all Khribin, even better things can be expected next season.