Near miss for Leishman, Smith

Marc Leishman and Justin Thomas
Marc Leishman shows his frustrations as Justin Thomas salutes in the playoff at Jeju Island.

Two Australians – Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith – had a chance to win the $US9.2 million CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea today, but ultimately both found familiar territory for golfers in 2017.

They had to bow to Justin Thomas.

Leishman lost a sudden-death playoff to Thomas at the second extra hole when he flared his approach shot with a fairway wood at the par-five 18th into the lake that guards the green.

Having tied with Thomas at nine under par in regulation, both players made par at the first playoff hole, the Australian performing a near miracle by finding his way back into play from behind a row of trees and a rock wall right of the fairway.

But going for the green again from the fairway at the second playoff hole, Leishman messed up with his fairway wood, threatening to smash the club into the turf in frustration after his ball sailed right and to a watery grave. He could not make par from there; Thomas hit a fearless fairway wood over the water up to the fringe and made birdie to close the door.

Smith was not far away either; at the 72nd hole he had a shortish birdie putt that would have taken him into a playoff, but he missed. The Queenslander ended up outright third at eight under, a shot from the playoff, and backed up nicely from his fifth place in Kuala Lumpur last week.

But mostly it was Leishman who would leave with regrets. He closed with a 70, making birdie at the final hole after a sensational fairway wood to the green to put himself into the outright lead, just before Thomas also birdied to ensure there would be a playoff.

He had a putt to win outright at the first playoff hole after Thomas found the greenside bunker and only made par, but his birdie roll from inside four metres missed on the high side. It was his last chance, as it turned out.

Leishman would have risen to a career-high world No. 11 had he won, not to mention a first prize of nearly $US 1.665 million.

It was his second career loss in a playoff at this level; he had previously been beaten by Zach Johson at the Open Championship in 2015.

But running to second to the brilliant Thomas is nothing to feel shame about. The American won five times on the US PGA Tour last season and is fundamentally the hottest player on tour. His enormous length put pressure on Leishman in the playoff and ultimately the Australian cracked.

“I officially have nothing left in the tank at this moment,’’ said Thomas, who ascends to world No. 3.

Americans will now occupy the first three places on the world rankings – Dustin Johnson at No.1, Jordan Spieth at No.2 and Thomas at No.3.

Jason Day also had a prominent finish at Jeju Island, finishing at four under to be tied-11th as he prepares to make his homecoming at the Emirates Australian Open at The Australian next month.

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