More than two hours later, after Charley Hoffman blew a two-stroke lead on the final two holes, Leishman was hoisting his first championship trophy on the PGA Tour.
“I think Charley was on the 15th when I turned the golf on,” Leishman said. “I watched that, then just went over and hit some balls and putted for a bit and it turned out well.”
The 28-year-old Australian began the day six strokes behind the leaders, but made eight birdies in a bogey-free round. He finished at 14-under 266.
“I didn’t think it was going to be enough,” he said. “Golf is a funny game, a really funny game.”
Hoffman was 16-under heading to the 17th hole, but pushed his tee shot right and into the water. He made a double bogey, and bogeyed the 18th after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
“When it’s said and done, obviously a bad finish and a bad taste in my mouth, but you learn from it,” he said. “Any time you put yourself in contention, you learn from that.”
Hoffman closed with 66 to tie for second with Masters Tournament champ Bubba Watson, who shot 65.
Leishman became the fifth player in seven years to break through with their first tour win at River Highlands, joining Fredrik Jacobson last year, Watson in 2010, Hunter Mahan in 2007 and J.J. Henry in 2006.
Leishman’s 62 was the lowest score in a final round by a champion this season.
“You’d almost rather make a few birdies coming in to win, rather than have someone hand it to you,” he said. “But having said that, I’m not going to give this back or anything.”
Hoffman seemed to be in command standing on the 17th tee, and still had a chance to win on 18. He put his tee shot onto a hill to the right and he put his second shot into the bunker. He ran that shot long and missed a 17-foot par putt.
Watson made a run at the lead on the front nine, with four birdies. But he had to scramble on the back nine, saving par on the 15th after putting his tee shot in the water. He also made par on 17 after hitting his second shot over the water and onto the green from the rough.
Leishman’s win gave him just his second top-10 finish this season. He didn’t play in Memphis or at the U.S. Open and said he came back refreshed after taking two weeks off.
“I practiced I think two times in the three weeks,” he said. “It’s been close for a while actually. I just get a little bit streaky with the putter, and I haven’t been lately.”
Roland Thatcher, who was tied for the lead after three rounds, began his day with three bogeys on the first six holes. He seemed like an afterthought, until Hoffman’s collapse. But he made an eagle on the par-5 13th after hitting his second shot within 15 feet of the pin.
He came up 18 with a chance to force a playoff, but put his second shot into a greenside bunker and bogeyed the hole.
“You never want to take the lead going into Sunday and then need two birdies on the last two holes to catch up,” he said.
He and fellow co-leader Brian Davis both shot 70, putting them in a group at 12 under with Tim Clark and John Rollins.
Clark, who won the 2010 Players Championship, had elbow surgery last August and had missed the cut in five of the previous nine tournaments he played this season.
The course record at River Highlands is 60, set last year by Patrick Cantlay as an amateur. The 20-year-old missed the cut this year in his first professional tournament.
Rory Sabbatini finished six shots behind the leader, but took home a gold Rolex after making his first hole-in-one on tour. His shot on the 161-foot 16th hole hit and spun left into the hole.
“It felt really good coming off the club,” he said. “It was just a question of having the right yardage. I kind of joked in the middle of the ball flight, and I said, ‘Be the right one and go in the hole.’”
Hunter Mahan shot a career-low 61 and tied for 11th after he came within a stroke of missing the 54-hole cut.
Mahan, in the first pair of the day, joked that he was just trying to play fast and not hold up the field. He opened with five pars before making nine birdies on the final 13 holes.
He missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. His 20-foot birdie putt from the edge of the green on 18 put him at 10-under 270 for the tournament.
“Your adrenaline is pumping more than you are nervous, because nothing really bad can happen,” he said. “I was just trying to hit it close and make a putt.”
Mahan, whose first tour win came here in 2007, needed a 6-foot birdie on 18 Saturday to make the 54-hole cut.
“At that point, you’re kind of like, God, do I want to even make this?” he said. “I’m glad I did.”