(Reuters) – Australian Marc Leishman putted brilliantly to win the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego on Sunday when the death of basketball great Kobe Bryant cast a shadow over the final round.
Several of the players competing at Torrey Pines knew Bryant well, notably Tiger Woods.
News of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash quickly spread around the Torrey Pines course as the round progressed.
Woods, though, was unaware until after the round.
Vying for a record 83rd PGA Tour victory, he shot 70 and finished equal ninth, six strokes behind Leishman, who surged to victory with a seven-under-par 65 despite hitting some awful drives.
The burly Australian’s red-hot putting helped him claim his fifth PGA Tour victory as several players including overnight leader Jon Rahm faltered.
Leishman finished at 15-under 273, one shot ahead of Rahm (70), who regrouped and birdied the final three holes, his long eagle putt at the last coming up just a few inches short.
“I feel pretty lucky I was able to win hitting it in some of the spots I hit it today,” Leishman said.
“This feels pretty amazing. I wasn’t expecting this at the start of the day. (I’m) elated.
“I putted as good as I’ve probably ever putted today. I made some good birdie putts early and then some great par saves later. They’re probably even more important than the early ones.”
Leishman started the round four strokes behind Rahm, who dropped four shots in the first five holes.
Rahm said he would not lose much sleep over his failure to win on Sunday as the death of Bryant and the outbreak of the China’s new coronavirus put things in perspective.
“I was coordinating with a friend to actually meet sometime soon and pick his brain,” said the sombre Spaniard.
“There’s an epidemic going on in China that could potentially kill thousands. Me missing a putt really, really doesn’t matter to me right now.”
Rahm was not the only big name below his best.
Rory McIlroy, with the world number one ranking there for the taking with a win, was never a factor after teeing off three shots behind Rahm.
Three bogeys in the first four holes left the Northern Irishman reeling, though like Rahm he recovered somewhat to shoot 69 and finish equal third with American Brandt Snedeker, three strokes behind Leishman.
McIlroy was also stunned by Bryant’s death.
“First basketball team I really followed were the Lakers,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)