Justin Leonard needed a change. After years of being one of the more consistent players on tour, the former British Open champion hit the proverbial wall this year, posting one top-15 finish in his first 8 starts before starting a downward spiral that saw him miss the cut in 7 of his last 10 events.
Adding insult to injury, Leonard's struggles were coming from a part of his game that had been the foundation of his career on the PGA Tour: his putting. We all remember his incredible 45-footer on the 17th hole at the Ryder Cup that helped the United State stage the most improbable comeback. Leonard had ice water in his veins when it came to big putts, but for some reason, he had lost his touch.
That's when Leonard and longtime instructor Randy Smith figured it was time for a change. Leonard turned to short game guru Marius Filmalter at the Memorial, as he looked to shorten his putting stroke and kick-start his game.While he didn't see immediate success in the last few weeks, there are signs that he could be coming around.
Leonard posted a 2-under 68 on Thursday, and followed it up with a 3-under 67 to get within two shots of the lead going into the weekend. And the putter? It was rolling nicely.
Needless to say, it's been awhile since he's been in this sort of position going into the weekend. But it's exactly where he wants to be, in contention on Saturday with a chance to hopefully be right there on the back nine in the final round.
We've seen Leonard make so many clutch putts over his career that you figure if he can somehow get his putting in order, there's a good chance we could see a resurgence from a player who used to be a stone-cold killer on the green.
Leonard can be that guy again. A win this week would be just the thing he needs to get his career back on track, and with the British Open coming up in a few weeks, there's no reason to think his low ball flight wouldn't make him a legitimate dark horse for the championship.
But like most things in golf, Leonard's success ultimately rests on his confidence with the flat stick. We'll see on Saturday if his first two rounds were an aberration, or if they're a sign of big things to come.