2005: Gee, that was easy . . .
About 450 miles north of here, Indy cars were blazing around the Brickyard.
In a much quieter venue at TPC at Southwind, Justin Leonard had the equivalent of a 50-mile lead heading into the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, but he was leaking fuel in the final round. And David Toms was making a 200-mph run at Leonard, who was very fortunate the FedEx didn’t go one more lap.
Leonard sputtered across the finish line, finishing a day in which he watched an eight-stroke lead nearly disappear. Toms blazed to a 63 – 10 shots better than Leonard’s Sunday score – but came up one shot short.
“It’s a good thing I had an eight-shot cushion because I was able to stay out just enough in front of a great round by David,” said Leonard, who finished at 14-under 266 and earned his second title of the year and 10th of his career.
Had Leonard blown the eight-shot lead, his name would have gone into the record books as the player who squandered the largest final-round lead in PGA Tour history. Several players have lost six-stroke advantages on Sunday. None have lost eight-shot leads.
The thought slipped into Justin Leonard’s mind briefly as he stood over a 3-foot putt for bogey on No. 18. If he missed, he was going to a playoff.
“I pretty quickly pushed that out of my mind,” he said.
Leonard sank the putt, reached in the hole for the ball and then collapsed onto the green in relief after pulling out a one-stroke victory, the first wire-to-wire win of his career and the second on Tour this year.
It was a stark contrast to his stellar play of the first three rounds. Leonard hit 16 greens in an opening 62.
He hit only five of 18 greens in regulation Sunday.
Toms, the two-time defending champion here, helped spice up the final holes with a back nine that included four birdies, an eagle and a bogey. He hung around on the practice range and signed autographs while waiting to see if Leonard would slip enough to force a playoff.
“It made it interesting at least,” Toms said.
Leonard gave himself a needed cushion when he pitched within 7 feet and made the putt for par on the par-4 17th.
“At that point, after an eight-shot lead has diminished to two, let’s just get it in the house,” Leonard said of his decision to stay as far away as possible from the water lining the left side of No. 18. “It wasn’t going to be a pretty win no matter what I did on 18. At that point, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get it in.”
– Staff and wire reports