Australia's Leishman catches hold of early lead
AUGUSTA, Ga. It’s a tradition at Augusta National. Not the pimento cheese, Par-3 Contest or skipping of balls across the lake at No. 16. No, this annual occurrence only impacts the handful of Australians in the Masters each year. They’re asked when one of their countrymen will wear the green jacket for the first time.
Australia’s strong golf heritage never has produced a Masters champion. Greg Norman was a Masters stalwart, but his time here was defined only by heartbreak – like when he lost a six-shot lead in 1996 or his 72nd-hole bogey 10 years earlier. Jason Day and Adam Scott were runners-up in 2011, finishing strong before being overtaken by Charl Schwartzel’s four consecutive birdies to close.
“It’s going to happen one day,” Scott said, “but it’s up to one of us to make it happen.”
An Australian is atop the leaderboard at Augusta National on Thursday. But it is not Scott or Day, the country’s two leading men. It is Marc Leishman, who earned his spot here with his first PGA Tour victory at last year’s Travelers Championship.
Leishman, No. 108 in the Official World Golf Ranking, finished the first round at Augusta National in 66 shots. “It was a good day obviously,” Leishman said. “Got off to a bit of a shaky start, a few nerves early. But got those out of the way with a birdie at 3 and then we're away. Hit some good shots, made some reasonably easy pars, and I think that's what gave me the confidence to go on from there.”
Leishman will earn a crystal vase if his 66 holds up as the day’s low round. He’s not letting himself look at larger potential prizes, though. “I never really got ahead of myself because this course can bite you pretty quickly,” he said. “There’s a lot of . . . hurdles to clear.”
He made bogey at the first hole, but birdied Nos. 3, 8, 10 and made four in a row on Nos. 13-16. His birdies on Nos. 13-15 came on putts of 6, 2 and 2 feet, respectively, before he holed one from “a different zip code” on the par-3 16th.
It’s been three years since Leishman made his Masters debut. He earned his invitation to the 2010 Masters by making the previous year’s Tour Championship, an accomplishment attributed mainly to one result, a runner-up in the final event before that Tour Championship, the BMW Championship. He shot 72-79 in his Masters debut. Like many first-time visitors to Augusta National, he was overwhelmed by the scenery.
"Found myself looking around a little bit too much and not concentrating on getting the ball in the hole,” he said. He's acclimated to Augusta National now.