Planet Golf — 12 August 2022 by GW staff and news services
Zalatoris wins first title in wild finish

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In one of the craziest playoffs in recent PGA Tour memory, Will Zalatoris took advantage of the wildest break of them all to capture his long-awaited first PGA Tour victory Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

After two eventful playoff holes between Zalatoris and Sepp Straka, Zalatoris’ tee shot at the third extra hole – the 151-yard, par-3 11th at TPC Southwind – barely carried the water, took a bounce on the bank and then at least six more bounces on the rock retaining wall before settling between the wall and the rough.

With Straka rinsing his tee shot – after Zalatoris had put himself in a precarious situation – and eventually lying four a few feet away, Zalatoris’ decision was made easier. But he still thought about playing the likely impossible shot.

Instead, after some discussion with new caddie Joel Stock, Zalatoris went back to the drop area, knocked a wedge from 93 yards out to 7 feet and rolled in the winning bogey putt.

The exciting finish followed a crazy second playoff hole, the par-4 18th, where Zalatoris’ drive sailed right, bounced hard off the cart path and came to rest a couple feet from the out-of-bounds fence. Straka’s drive hooked hard and nearly into the water before somehow stopping on the bank.

While Zalatoris opted to punch out, Straka was even more conservative, keeping his shoes on (he’d taken them off briefly while contemplating a stance in the lake) and taking a penalty stroke so he could drop back in the fairway. From 152 yards out, Straka stuck his third shot to 7 feet to put the pressure back on his opponent. Zalatoris, who had converted a clutch 10-footer for par on the hole in regulation, responded by rolling in the 14-foot par save.

Straka matched to extend the playoff before getting closed out a hole later.

THIRD ROUND

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — J.J. Spaun did just enough right at the end to fashion a 2-under 68 and keep his 1-shot lead Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship with a familiar name lurking.
At stake for Cameron Smith is No. 1 in the world.

Already enjoying a banner year with his first major at the Open Championship, and under heavy scrutiny for reports that he is headed to Saudi-funded LIV Golf, Smith birdied his last hole for a 67. That left him 2 shots behind and fully aware a victory moves him to No. 1 in the world.

“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that

The chase will start out in a traffic jam.

Spaun had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole to claim the 54-hole lead at 13-under 197.

Sepp Straka was right there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on the 18th for a 68 that left him a shot behind. Both are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a victory in a FedEx Cup playoffs carries even more weight — $2.7 million to the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world and in the FedEx Cup since March, missed the cut. That paves the way for Smith, whose three wins this year include the Players Championship, to reach No. 1 if he were to win.

Will Zalatoris is just as hungry, for different reasons. Zalatoris has been a tough customer in the majors, losing in a playoff at the PGA Championship and finishing a shot back in the U.S. Open. He is No. 14 in the world. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancée wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.

“I told her, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when we get there,'” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddie, Joel Stock, read putts in their second official round together. Zalatoris shot a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.

He also was 2 behind, along with Trey Mullinax (66).

As for the chase to the next playoff event, consider Tyler Duncan. He is No. 118 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 move on to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware. Duncan had a 67 and was tied for sixth. He was 3 behind, and even if he doesn’t win, he can move on if he can hold his position.

That won’t be easy with so many players in the mix — 16 players separated by four shots. That group includes Sam Burns and Tony Finau. A winner in his past two starts, Finau ended his streak of 11 consecutive rounds at 68 or lower. He made a bogey on the last hole to give him a 69, leaving him 4 shots behind.

No one stands out like Smith, for so many reasons. Not only is it his first start since being introduced at St. Andrews as the “champion golfer of the year,” the Telegraph of London reported Tuesday that he had signed with LIV and would join the defectors outside Boston after the Tour Championship is over.

Smith has steadfastly refused to talk about it, saying he’s thinking only of the FedEx Cup.

“I’m a man of my word and whenever you guys need to know anything, it’ll be said by me,” Smith said Tuesday. That was shortly before a California federal judge denied a request by three LIV golfers to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Distractions don’t seem to be an issue, and there is no shortage of them.

“There’s definitely been a few more, but for me, I’m just trying to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is to hit good golf shots and make birdies.”

SECOND ROUND

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — J.J. Spaun hopes he’s only getting started on the road to the FedExCup finale. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will have to wait another week.

As for Jason Day, his season is over.

Spaun made a late birdie for a 3-under 67 to take a one-shot lead Friday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the opening event in the PGA TOUR postseason that no longer has three of its biggest stars for the weekend at the TPC Southwind.

Scheffler, the Masters champion and No. 1 player for the last five months, never quite recovered from what he could only describe as an “out-of-body experience” with his putting in the first round. He had birdie chances on two of the last three holes he couldn’t convert and his 68 was one shot short of making the weekend.

“Obviously, it’s really frustrating coming into the playoffs,” Scheffler said. “I was practicing really hard at home, actually playing really good, and I showed up and had the worst putting day ever. Golf smacks you in the face sometimes.”

McIlroy went from rough to gallery to fringe to bogey on his last hole for a 69 for only his second missed cut of the year. Spieth’s hopes of playing the weekend ended with a tee shot into the water on the par-3 14th that led to a 74.

At least they get to play next week in the BMW Championship, being high enough in the standings not to lose too much sleep over it.

Day opened with a 65 and was hopeful of a big finish to advance into the top 70 who made it to the next playoff event. Instead, the former world No. 1 dropped five shots over the last eight holes, shot 74 and missed the cut by one shot.

Day was among 31 players who started outside the top 70 in the FedExCup and missed the cut, meaning their season is over.

Rickie Fowler, who came in at No. 125, ended the back nine (double bogey) and front nine (bogey) poorly and shot 71. He was tied for 33rd, around for two more days but needing to contend to advance.

Spaun was at 11-under 129 and only looking ahead.

He was one shot ahead of Sepp Straka, who birdied his last three holes for a 66, and Troy Merritt, who had a 65. Merritt started at No. 64 in the standings, so this was just what he needed to make sure he would be moving on.

With a clear sky, hot sun and a little more wind, Spaun was as proud of his 67 on Friday as his 64 the day before. Mostly, he feels his game his coming around after going into a lull following his first PGA TOUR title at the Valero Texas Open in early April.

“It’s so hard to be consistently good at the highest level. Some guys that do it like that, like Tiger and McIlroy and all those guys. It’s just insane how good they are for so long,” Spaun said. “I did it for a few months and then kind of fell off, but here I am kind of making my way back.”

Straka knows the feeling. He had not made it to the weekend since the Memorial Tournament in early June. And then he opened with rounds of 64-66.

“Hadn’t played great coming into this week. Missed a bunch of cuts coming in,” Straka said (in his case, “a bunch” would be six in a row). “But that’s golf. You’re going to have the ebbs and flows and just kind go with it.”

And off he went, especially at the end, when he finished with three straight birdies to get to 10 under.

Tony Finau, coming off two straight victories, had his 11th consecutive round at 68 or lower dating to the final round of The Open. His 68 on Friday left him three behind.

Spaun didn’t feel as though he had much of a lead — one shot, not to mention 15 players within four shots of the lead and 36 holes still to play.

“It’s anyone’s weekend, and it’s going to mine,” he said playfully.

The first part for so many players was getting to the weekend, and two players who seized on the opportunity were Ryan Palmer and Lucas Glover.

Palmer is at No. 110 in the FedExCup, shot 67 and joined Finau, The Open champion Cam Smith (65) and others at 8-under 132.

Glover is No. 121. Even with a bogey on his final hole, his 68 put him four shots out of the lead.

FIRST ROUND

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Si Woo Kim holed out from 167 yards in the 18th fairway for eagle to cap off a superb finish of 6-under par on his last six holes, giving him a 62 and a share of the lead with J.J. Spaun.

Kim and Spaun, who had eight birdies in such a clean round he couldn’t even think which shot was the best, are both assured of playing next week. Spaun began the postseason at No. 25 on the strength of his first PGA TOUR title at the Valero Texas Open.

That win sent him immediately to Augusta National for the Masters, such a quick turnaround that he didn’t get a chance to soak up the experience. He tied for 23rd and would like nothing better to return. Making it to the FedExCup finale is likely to do the trick.

“It will be nice to punch another ticket there and be able to plan it out and get down Sunday, maybe even Saturday the week before, take my time and enjoy all the little things that come along with that great tradition,” Spaun said. “Hopefully keep playing well this week and the next couple weeks, and I’ll be there.”

Rickie Fowler and Jason Day faced enough stress just to make sure they got into the PGA TOUR’s postseason. Now that they’re here, they want to keep going.

Fowler had a change of caddies and putters and finally started to see some putts fall, though still not enough to his liking. Day recovered from a spiked fever and burning sensation in his eyes and played bogey-free Thursday at the TPC Southwind. Both had a 5-under 65.

That wasn’t good enough to lead the FedEx St. Jude Championship, only to hope.

Sahith Theegala, who could make a strong case for PGA TOUR rookie of the year, holed a 30-foot putt on his final hole for a 63. Among those another shot back was Tony Finau, coming off two straight victories. It was Finau’s 10th consecutive round at 68 or lower, dating to a 66 in the final round of The Open.

But as the FedExCup Playoffs begin, the emphasis is as much on who advances. Only the top 70 from the 125 players who qualified advance to the BMW Championship next week, and then the top 30 move on to the finale at East Lake.

Fowler made it on the number — No. 125 — and needs his best golf of the last two years to get through to the next round.

“Nothing to lose,” Fowler said. “Being 125, obviously need to play well just to make it to next week, but it would be a big bonus if we can do that and move on. Kind of leave it all out there, see what happens, but definitely happy with the start.”

He was helped late in his round with a 4-iron from 220 yards to 6 feet for eagle.

Day was outside the top 125 three weeks but was helped by a 66 on the final day in Detroit to tie for 17th and secure his spot in the postseason.

That was a good thing, too, because last week he opened with a 67 and then had to withdraw with an illness. He knew he was in trouble when he fell asleep at breakfast before the next round. His eyes were burning. His fever spiked. Day wasn’t sure how bad the fever was, but he checked his temperature the next day when he felt much better and it was 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 Celsius).

The big takeaway was that he felt he was trending in the right direction, and the game felt that way on a soft, muggy morning that feature occasional light rain.

As for the pressure? Day feels it’s always there for him, but at this point, he’s trying to let good golf happen instead of trying to force it, and not get too caught up in his position.

Day and Fowler were in a tie for eighth, not quite enough for either to advance on a day when the average score was 68.6. There’s a long way to go.

“It does nothing for me to look ahead,” he said, “but I do want to play next week.”

Scottie Scheffler has the luxury of a slow start as No. 1 in the world and in the FedExCup, and that’s a good thing. The Masters champion had a frustrating day of a few odd bounces and a lot of missed chances on the green for a 71.

Rory McIlroy had to make two late birdies to salvage a 70. For everyone, the next step is making the cut. It means more to some than others.

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