Brutal return leaves Will Zalatoris looking towards 2024

Will Zalatoris, 2023 Hero World Challenge,(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Will Zalatoris, 2023 Hero World Challenge,(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Tiger’s latest highly anticipated comeback took place at last week’s Hero World Challenge at the Ernie Els-designed Albany golf course in The Bahamas, but the lesser talked about comeback was that of the exciting young prospect, Will Zalatoris.

Zalatoris burst onto the scene out of nowhere at the 2021 Masters which sparked conversations about the first rookie winner at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979. Zalatoris may have had to settle for second place in 2021 at Augusta, but it launched him into the limelight where he stayed until April this year.

Will Zalatoris was forced to end his season early and undergo back surgery, effectively destroying his year and forcing him to keep waiting for his Ryder Cup debut.

To add insult to (actual) injury, the 2017 First-Team All-American had to withdraw from Augusta in April after a practice round without having played a competitive round at this year’s Masters.

Unfortunately, this surgery and prolonged period on the sidelines was a long time coming for Zalatoris as he previously had to miss the 2022 playoffs with the same back injury.

The 2021 Rookie of the Year has now paid his dues and had his body in the right place to tee it up again last week at the Hero World Challenge.

Zalatoris played alongside Jordan Spieth in the first round and shot an opening 9-over 81, despite starting with a birdie 3 at the par-4 first hole.

A bogey 4 at the par-3 5th wasn’t a concern, but then he dropped 7 shots in 5 holes between the 8th and the 12th. Unsurprisingly, that left Zalatoris as the last man on the leaderboard behind Tiger at +3 and Wyndham Clark at +4 at the time.

Perhaps understandably, Will Zalatoris struggled with driving accuracy and distance compared to the rest of the 20-man field, finishing 19th and last respectively. Zalatoris was always likely to be swinging within himself at his first event back to see how much his recovering back would let him unleash.

Perhaps more concerning was that Zalatoris also struggled with the low-impact parts of his game that do not rely on the back strength as much, ranking last in both strokes gained putting and scrambling after a round of action.

With all of that being said, his putting game also seems to be going through an overhaul. Zalatoris switched to the long putter last week, perhaps in response to previously having one of the most unusual putting strokes in professional golf.

High expectations aside, a good result for Zalatoris at the Hero World Challenge last week was always going to be finishing four rounds of golf and feeling healthy after such a long recovery. After accomplishing that, he now has a chance to rebuild the game before the next season gets properly underway in January 2024.

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Zalatoris followed a challenging opening round last week with a strong showing during the second round when he fired a 68 for an exceptional 13-stroke improvement before eventually settling for a 20th-place finish on his return to competitive action.