Will Zalatoris, winning and lost opportunity

Will Zalatoris, FedEx St. Jude Championship,Syndication: The Commercial Appeal
Will Zalatoris, FedEx St. Jude Championship,Syndication: The Commercial Appeal /

Until Sunday’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, Will Zalatoris had a chance to do something unprecedented in the history of professional golf…but he blew it.

Zalatoris was on track to claim the FedEx Cup two weeks from now and make that ultimate prize the first championship of his PGA Tour career.

But by defeating Sepp Straka Sunday on the third hole of a sudden death playoff to win the FedEx St. Jude Championship, Zalatoris instead made that attractive piece of hardware the first in his collection.

He’ll now have to settle for adding the FedEx Cup championship as an additional ornament in his trophy case.

He’s well-positioned to do so. With his victory at the FedEx St. Jude, Zalatoris climbed from 12th to the No. 1 position in the updated FedEx Cup standings, unseating Scottie Scheffler, who missed the cut. He will put that status on the line next week at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware.

Golf observers and Zalatoris’ growing legion of fans have been waiting for this moment virtually since he joined the Tour.

Runner-up at the 2021 Masters, he’s added three more second-place finishes this season alone. He lost a playoff to Luke List at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, lost another playoff to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship in May, and missed a 15-foot putt that would have put him in a playoff with Matthew Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open in June.

Entering the FedEx St. Jude Championship, Will Zalatoris had already amassed more than $10 million – including $6.7 million this year alone.

Six-plus million dollars in one season is another pinnacle no non-winner has ever before reached.

How did Zalatoris finally actually win? He did it the same way Will Zalatoris does everything on a golf course, by reducing the act of striking a golf ball to the purest science.

At St. Jude, he ranked No. 1 in both Strokes Gained Approaching the Greens and Strokes Gained Tee to Green. Zalatoris is a notoriously shaky putter, but when you are stiffing your irons as regularly as he does it’s possible to get away with ordinary putting.

And his putting at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, while not world-class, was several notches above ordinary. He also ranked 25th among the field of 122 in Strokes Gained Putting for the week.

In the process he birdied 21 of the 72 holes he played, limiting himself to just four bogeys and one double bogey. Trailing Straka and J.J. Spaun entering the final round, Will Zalatoris announced his presence with authority, dropping his approach within four feet of the flag on the first hole, and within one foot on the second.

Stranded 15 feet from the cup on the third hole, he rolled that one in, too, and spent not one more minute of the day in any position other than first or tied for the same.

None of this means that Will Zalatoris is a lock to capture the FedEx Cup in two weeks in Atlanta. Scheffler was believed to be in a commanding position for the ultimate prize until Friday, when he failed to birdie any of the final three holes and missed the cut by a stroke.

Besides, at this stage of the season, threats can come from anywhere.

Take Straka, the man Zalatoris had to outlast in Sunday’s playoff. The Austrian native came to the FedEx St. Jude Championship ranked only 35th in the standings, and having missed six consecutive cuts. Or take Lucas Glover, who tied for third. He entered the week ranked 121st and left in 34th position, a nifty 87-place ascent.

Next. Will Zalatoris and the PGA are both winners in Memphis. dark

Lots of things can happen to the FedEx Cup standings over the next couple of weeks. But the way Zalatoris is playing, the most likely scenario involves more hardware joining that FedEx St. Jude bauble on what could become a rapidly populating trophy case.