The thought slipped into Justin Leonard’s mind briefly as he stood over a 3½-foot putt for bogey on No. 18. If he missed, he was going to a playoff.
That eight-stroke lead? Long gone, and his name would be in the record book for blowing the biggest lead ever on the PGA Tour.
“I pretty quickly pushed that out of my mind,” Leonard said.
The Texan sunk the putt, reached in the hole for the ball and then collapsed onto the green in relief after pulling out a one-stroke victory over David Toms in the St. Jude Classic on Sunday, the first wire-to-wire win of his career and the second on tour this year.
Starting with an eight-stroke lead, Leonard closed with a 3-over 73 to finish at 14-under 266 and earn his second title of the year and 10th of his career.
“It’s a good thing I had an eight-shot cushion because I was able to stay out just enough in front of a great round by David,” Leonard said.
It’s the second time Leonard didn’t record a birdie in his final round and still won, the last at 2002 in Hilton Head when he became the first tour winner to do that in seven years. He hit only five of 18 greens in regulation Sunday.
Toms, the two-time defending champion here, helped spice up the final holes with a 63 that included four birdies, an eagle and a bogey on the back nine. He waited on the practice range and signed autographs while waiting to see if Leonard would slip enough to force a playoff.
“It made it interesting at least,” Toms said.
Leonard gave himself a needed cushion when he chipped within 7 feet and made the putt for par on the par-4 17th.
“At that point after an eight-shot lead has diminished to two, let’s just get it in the house,” Leonard said of his decision to stay as far away as possible from the water lining the left side of No. 18. “It wasn’t going to be a pretty win no matter what I did on 18. At that point, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get it in.”
He did just that as he hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker and put his second shot 44 yards short of the green in the rough in front of the grandstands. He took relief with a drop, then chipped over a bunker within 34 feet and putted out for his bogey and the victory.
Leonard, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic winner in January, joined some select company with Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry as multiple winners on the tour this year. It’s the first time Leonard has won two events in a year since 1997 when he took the Kemper Open and the British Open.
He pocketed the winner’s $882,000 check by becoming only the third wire-to-wire winner in the 48-year history of the tournament, joining Bob Estes (2001) and Dave Hill (1967).
Fred Funk (68) was third at 271, while Davis Love III (68) and Heath Slocum (71) tied for fourth at 272.
Toms, who pulled off his own six-stroke victory here last year, ran out of holes in trying to become the first player on tour to win the same event three straight years since Tiger Woods.
Toms birdied the par-4 10th to pull within seven strokes. Then he bounced his tee shot on the par-3 11th off the back of the island green and into the water for bogey.
He rebounded with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to get to 10 under - the only person other than Leonard to get double digits below par. Toms then eagled the par-5, 519-yard 16th by sinking a 7-foot putt, and chipped in for birdie from 64 feet on No. 17.
Toms’ only regret was missing a nearly 14-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that could have forced the playoff and not getting shooting lower on the front side.
“I got to 18 and obviously wanting to make birdie there and finish it off. That’s the only time I saw he was all the way back down to 15 [under]. I saw where he bogeyed 15. That’s the only time I knew I was within two. If I had made that putt, there was the chance he could bogey 17 or 18, which he did,” Toms said.
“I just didn’t hit a very good putt there on the last hole,” Toms said.
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