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Farmers defending champion Marc Leishman has had ups and downs since 2020 victory

Marc Leishman hits from the rough on the 14th hole during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Marc Leishman hits from the rough on the 14th hole during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Jan 26, 2020.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

When he comes to Torrey Pines, Marc Leishman is reminded of his hometown of Warrnambool, a coastal city in , Australia.

Maybe that’s why Leishman feels so at home here.

The Farmers Insurance Open’s defending champion has five top-10 finishes in the tournament, including a pair of second-place showings before last year’s one-stroke victory over Jon Rahm.

“It reminds me a lot of home,” Leishman said Tuesday morning before heading out for a practice round. “The grasses that are at Torrey Pines here I grew up on at Warrnambool. It was my first trip to America coming to this golf course for the Junior World in 2001.

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“I enjoy being here, I love San Diego. I’ve got some friends that I’ve known for a long time here in town. Just love coming to Torrey Pines.”

Si Woo Kim overtakes Patrick Cantlay on the leaderboard by making birdies on two of the final three holes to win The American Express in La Quinta.

Especially last year, when Leishman shot a seven-under 65 in the final round after starting the day four shots back in a seven-way tie for seventh.

“It was a special day,” said Leishman, 37, whose fifth PGA Tour victory was accompanied by a trophy, a surfboard and a check for $1.35 million. “I’ve been in that position a couple of times before, one in particular I remember, I think I was leading by one or two, playing the seventh hole and after that kind of fell away.

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“You learn from those sort of things. I was just wanting to take all my experiences, put them in my basket, I guess, and use them all that day. Was lucky enough to have, well, have some good golf, make some putts and came out on top. So it was a really fun day that I’ll remember forever.”

Leishman is bidding to become the first back-to-back winner at the Farmers since Tiger Woods won four straight titles from 2005-08.

The Australian is matched with two other former champions — Rahm (2017) and Jason Day (2015, 2018) — for the first two rounds of the four-day tournament. They will go off on the tougher South Course in Thursday’s opening round.

Leishman’s win at Torrey Pines was followed a few weeks later with a second-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida. Poised for a big year, Leishman had to put the clubs in the closet along with everyone else when the coronavirus pandemic interrupted everything.

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It was 13 weeks before the PGA tour season resumed. Leishman’s game disappeared sometime during the long layoff.

He missed six cuts in the next 14 events he competed in after missing just four cuts in his previous 30 tournaments. He finished higher than 29th only once, when he was 13th at the Masters.

“It was very frustrating,” Leishman said, adding that he “lost all momentum, sort of took me a long time to get used to playing with nobody around. I don’t normally play on weeks off, so most of the time that I play it’s at a tournament, so it was weird.

“But when you go through something like that, I think you’ve got to try and take the positives out of it. One, I didn’t get COVID, no one in my family got COVID, but two, you can’t always be on top of your game as much as you would love to be, and that just makes you appreciate when you are playing well a lot more.”

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Leishman said he had no idea what he was doing wrong.

“I just didn’t feel like me over the ball, which it’s a weird thing to say because, obviously, it wasn’t someone else holding the club,” he said. “But the way — to get a little bit technical — the way I was getting into the ball was causing me to stand too far away from the golf ball, and from there things just don’t go well for me.

“Yeah, it was a little thing, but little things can turn into big things and then when you start hitting bad shots, it starts getting in your head.”

The low point came at the end of August in the BMW Championship when he finished 30 over — 34 strokes behind Rahm’s winning score.

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Max Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double-bogey en route to a third-round, seven-under 65 for a share of the lead in the American Express.

Leishman was able to get together with longtime coach Denis McDade in the fall.

“We sorted it out by the end of October, by the Masters, which was good,” Leishman said. “Should be ready to go for this season.”

He tied for fourth two weeks ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii, so things are looking up as he returns to his home away from home.

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Leishman was asked if he feels added pressure as the defending champion.

“I don’t think it adds pressure,” he said. “Like I’ve said before, everyone still starts at zero on the first tee. You’ve got to earn your way to have that chance to win on Sunday, and then that’s probably where the real work starts, when you do get a sniff and you’ve got to try and get that trophy.

“Yeah, I just want to give myself a chance.”


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