Marc Leishman might not know a thing or two about playing under pressure in a major championship, but that never stopped him before. Leishman was younger than Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old Chinese sensation at this week’s Masters, when he beat his father for the club championship back home in his native Australia.
“I didn’t know what pressure was when I was 13,” he said.
Leishman, 29, handled the Masters pressure and a frisky wind Friday to shoot a 1-over 73 for a 36-hole total of 5-under 139 at Augusta National Golf Club. He trails Jason Day by one stroke.
It’s been three years since Leishman’s Masters debut in 2010. Leishman, who opened with a 66, has proved he can go low when he fired an 8-under 62 to win his lone PGA Tour title, the 2012 Travelers Championship.
Back in his native Warrnambool, a coastal town of about 30,000 three hours from Melbourne, his parents, Paul and Pelita, got quite a shock when they woke up and saw he had won.
Now, Paul and Pelita Leishman are witnessing his performance in person along with Leishman’s wife, Audrey, who is 22 weeks pregnant with their second child, but made the arduous walk following her husband around the course.
“The way he grinded it out today is just the way he does it,” his father said. “He keeps his cool.”
Leishman’s father speaks from experience. His son was full of promise when they competed against each other in the Warrnambool Club championship, a four-round stroke-play competition.
“Of course we’re both trying to beat each other, and he got me,” Paul said. “A lot of people said, ‘Ah, you let him win. I said, ‘Hell no! That might’ve been my last chance to get him.’ ”
That victory launched Leishman’s dream to play on the PGA Tour. He is one of only four Australians to make the Masters field, the nation’s lowest representation here since 2002, but they all rank T-15 or better.
Day, the 36-hole leader, Adam Scott (3-under, T-8) and John Senden (2-under, T-15) are in contention to become the first Aussie to wear a green jacket.
Leishman compensated for two early bogeys, at the par-3 fourth and sixth holes, with birdies at Nos. 7 and 8. Leishman lost another precious stroke at the 14th when hit short of 14, but rescued par after missing left of the par-3 16th.
When asked if he felt comfortable near the top of the leaderboard, Leishman noted he had won seven or eight times since turning pro in 2005, and recalled winning four times by seven or more strokes.
“Not saying that’s going to happen this week,” he said with a laugh. “I hope it does.”
Leishman knows that this week is different, as well as what is at stake, but he refuses to put Tiger Woods or any of the other stars on the leaderboard on a pedestal.
“He’s the best player in the world at the moment, and obviously I’d have to play good to beat him,” Leishman said. “But I think it’s doable.”
Leishman paused, then added, “He’ll probably get annoyed now and shoot 62 tomorrow.”