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Late eagle carries Marc Leishman to victory at Bay Hill

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    Late eagle carries Marc Leishman to victory at Bay Hill

Photo: Richard Heathcote, Getty Images

Arnold Palmer Invitational, Marc Leishman gets an Arnie’s Army cardigan in honor of the late golfing legend. Graeme McDowell (left) and Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, helps him try it on.
Arnold Palmer Invitational, Marc Leishman gets an Arnie’s Army cardigan in honor of the late golfing legend. Graeme McDowell (left) and Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, helps him try it on.

Photo: Richard Heathcote, Getty Images

Late eagle carries Marc Leishman to victory at Bay Hill

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Marc Leishman kept shifting his eyes toward the glare coming from the silver Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy at his side. Beyond the shiny prize, between two images of Palmer, was a black banner with six words that defined how Palmer approached the game.

“You must play boldly to win.”

Leishman followed that script Sunday to a one-shot victory at Bay Hill in Orlando.

He didn’t flinch over three key par putts over the last four holes. And even after his most disappointing shot down the stretch, a 9-iron on the par-5 16th hole that settled 50 feet away from the flag, the 33-year-old Australian knocked it in for an eagle that allowed him to jump past Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman into the lead alone. He stayed in front the rest of the way.

“It’s sad not to have him up there walking off the 18th green, to be that first guy to walk off and not be greeted by Arnold Palmer,” said Leishman of Palmer, who died Sept. 25. “But he’s left such a great legacy, and I’m sure he will be proud of how everything has gone this week.”

The occasion was no less joyous. Leishman’s final act was a 45-yard pitch from short of the 18th green that ran to 3 feet, a putt that looked a lot closer when he saw the replay on television. He knocked in that one for a 3-under-par 69 and a total of 11-under 277.

Onto the green ran his two sons, ages 5 and 3, as wife Audrey waited for him. Just two years ago, Leishman worried that he wouldn’t have her. He was called away during practice at Augusta National upon learning his wife was suffering toxic-shock syndrome. Doctors put her in a coma to help fight the infection.

“It’s been a wild ride and it makes golf … I want to do it well, but it makes it less important. It’s not life and death,” Leishman said. “It’s just great to be able to share this with someone.”

To honor Palmer, the PGA Tour now awards a three-year exemption and raised the purse to $8.7 million, meaning Leishman won $1,566,000 — just $295,857 less than what Palmer won in his PGA Tour career.

Kisner and Hoffman, tied for the 54-hole lead, each closed with a 73 to finish a stroke back. McIlroy shot 69 to finish two shots back, with Tyrell Hatton.

LPGA Tour: Anna Nordqvist caught up with some college friends — and left everyone else behind on another hot afternoon at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix. The 29-year-old Arizona State alum shot a 4-under 68 for a 25-under 263 to hold off fellow major champions Ariya Jutanugarn (68), Stacy Lewis (68) and In Gee Chun (656) by two strokes in record 96-degree heat at Desert Ridge.

Nordqvist won her seventh LPGA Tour title and first since successfully defending the ShopRite LPGA Classic title in June.

Los Altos Hills’ Juli Inkster, 56, closed with an 8-under 64. It was her lowest round on tour since also shooting 64 in the third round of the 2003 Evian Championship. The Hall of Famer finished at 272 at Desert Ridge. She opened with rounds of 65, 73 and 70.

Champions Tour: Tom Lehman took advantage of senior newcomer Steve Stricker’s late mistakes to win the Tucson Conquistadores Classic for his 10th PGA Tour Champions victory. Two strokes behind Stricker with three holes to play, Lehman closed with two birdies and a par for a 7-under 66 and a one-stroke victory over Stricker (70), his playing partner.

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