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Len Ziehm On Golf

Collapse in Boston could haunt Leishman in final round of BMW Championship

Marc Leishman is hardly a household name in the golf world but – if he can hold his game together – he will likely win the BMW Championship today and be in a great position to win the FedEx Cup’s $10 million bonus next week in Atlanta.

The question is, can he hold his game together?

Leishman has led wire to wire in this BMW Championship at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, and he’ll take a five-stroke lead over fellow Australian Jason Day and Rickie Fowler into the final round. It would seem a formidable task for any of the others in the 69-man field to catch him – except for one thing.

In the last FedEx Cup Playoff event in Boston Leishman also led after 54 holes. Then he blew up, shooting 40 on the last nine holes to wind up third behind champion Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who has been the runner-up in both of the previous playoff events. That bad experience could conceivably happen again.

“A lot of tournaments you put three rounds together, and it’s very easy to throw a mediocre round in there,’’ said Leishman. “Tomorrow I’ve got to try not to do that. After what happened (in Boston) I’ve got extra determination to finish this one off, and my game is in a better spot. This course sets up better for me than (the one in Boston).’’

Spieth leads the FedEx point standings with Thomas second and Dustin Johnson, winner of the first tourney, third. That trio has not played well at Conway Farms, however, and that suggests the standings could dramatically change after today’s round. Spieth, after a 71 on Saturday, is tied for 27th in the BMW Championship. Thomas, who also shot 71, is tied for 41st and Johnson, after a 69, is tied for 55th.

So, if they don’t improve and Leishman goes on to win he could be the front runner in the last of these four $8,750,000 tournaments at Atlanta’s East Lake layout next week. Only 30 players will be competing there. Any player in the top five in the standings after the BMW Championship will take the $10 million bonus with a victory in Atlanta.

Low scoring and spectacular shots were the norm in the first two rounds at Conway Farms. Saturday’s round was a strange one, in that Leishman, Fowler and Day – the top three at the start of the day — didn’t go low but still maintained their places at the top of the leaderboard. Leishman, who had a three-stroke lead after 36 holes, shot 68 and is at 19-under-par 194 for the three rounds. Fowler and Day both carded 70s and remain tied for second.

“The course changed quite a lot compared to the first two days,’’ said Leishman. “It firmed up a lot and the greens speed was up, so it was nice to keep making birdies like I have been all week.’’

Leishman opened this BMW Championship with a 62, making 10 birdies on Thursday. He added 12 more in the next two rounds and has 22 in his 54 holes.

Day won by six strokes the last time the BMW Championship was played at Conway Farms in 2015. He was a wire-to-wire winner with a 22-under-par score that time, which was similar to Leishman’s performance for this year’s three rounds this week.

“Leish is playing spectacular,’’ said Day, Leishman’s playing partner in the third round. “He’s going to be very difficult to beat. I’ll have to play really good because he isn’t making any mistakes. He’s hitting it in the right spots, hitting it on the greens and holing putts. That’s a good formula for success.’’

Fowler, who rolled in an eagle putt at No. 1 to start Saturday’s round but managed only one birdie after that, will be paired with Leishman today.

Only England’s Justin Rose (66) and Spain’s Jon Rahm (65, Saturday’s low score) made a run at the leaders. Rose is solo fourth, eight behind Leishman, and Rahm is tied for fifth, another shot back. Rose, who won the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in 2011, doesn’t like his chances in the final round.

“Leishman is playing great, along with Rickie and Jason,’’ said Rose. `You’ve got to factor in that they’re going to continue to play great.’’

Fowler took a more positive approach.

“Ultimately you just want a chance come Sunday, so we’ve taken care of that,’’ he said. “I would have liked to be a little better today, but we got that round out of the way, and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.’’