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 lead 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 share of third place in one tournament during the inaugural 2022 Invitational Series 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.”