Aaron Wise and Marc Leishman of Australia began the rain-delayed final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson on Sunday with a four-stroke cushion over the field, creating a match-play scenario between the two golfers with everyone else playing for third place.
The 21-year-old Wise played his part as expected and was the better player over the last 18 holes, shooting 6-under-par 65 in the final round to Leishman’s 68 to finish at 23-under 261 to win this storied event by three strokes at Trinity Forest Golf Club, located six miles south of downtown Dallas.
Wise, a rookie with 26 PGA Tour events now under his belt, captured his first Tour title two weeks after he finished tied for second to Jason Day at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.
“I hit the ball incredible all week along and it got better as the week went along which was fun for me to see,” Wise said. “It continued today. I absolutely striped it. Hit it incredible.
“I had a talk with my putter there on No. 3 a little bit about it because I missed a couple chances early. It got red hot in the middle of that round and kind of shot me off to a huge lead.”
The key sequence Wise used to separate himself from Leishman happened on the front-nine, when Wise collected five birdies in a six-hole stretch and turned in 31. He added another birdie on the 10th hole and cruised home with eight straight pars, the final of which came in near-darkness.
“I knew coming down the stretch Marc was going to get some chances because he was hitting the ball great as well and luckily the ball kind of bounced my way,” Wise said. “I was able to par in and get the victory.”
Leishman, who began the week at Trinity Forest with a 10-under 61 to establish a course record, played his worst golf when he needed to be at his best, and never really challenged Wise.
He bogeyed the second, eagled the fifth after driving the green, and birdied the seventh and eighth — but still trailed by two. Leishman then had two birdies and two bogeys coming in.
“I played with Aaron yesterday, and he played very well and he played extremely well today,” Leishman said. “He holed putts he needed to hole. I didn’t. That’s what you got to do. I hit a couple of loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him and didn’t, and that’s probably the difference in the end.”
Branden Grace of South Africa (who fired a field-low 62 on Sunday), J.J. Spaun (63), and Keith Mitchell (63) tied for third but were never in the conversation to catch Wise. Grace’s round, which came on his 30th birthday, tied for his career low.
Grace said he enjoyed playing at Trinity Forest, a minimalist, links-style course that was used for the first time in this tournament’s 50th edition.
“You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course,” Grace said. “It was a breath of fresh air playing something different this week instead of the week-in, week out. It was fun. The tournament did a great job at the venue. It will only get better with time.”
Jimmy Walker (67), Ryan Blaum (66) and Kevin Na (68) finished in sixth, seven shots off Wise’s pace. Adam Scott of Australia (65), Charles Howell III (66), and Kevin Tway (67) ended up tied for ninth at 269.
Most casual fans likely didn’t know much about Wise until his runner-up performance in Charlotte. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but he moved to the United States when he was 3.
Wise went to college at Oregon, where he helped the Ducks win the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship in 2016, and he was also the NCAA men’s individual champion that season.
While this was Wise’s first victiory on America’s preeminent golf tour, he has won on both the Web.com Tour in 2017 and on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour in 2016. Wise has made the cut in 10 of 17 starts this season and has five top-25 finishes in 2017-18 after making nine combined starts on the PGA Tour the past two seasons.
“It feels amazing, you know,” Wise said about winning. “It’s incredible. It’s everything I’ve dreamed of. I get to plan my schedule — which is huge to me — and I get to play in the majors. It’s dream come true to win this one.”
The PGA Tour remains in Texas and heads 40 miles east next week to venerable Colonial Country Club for the Fort Worth Invitational.
–Field Level Media