Thu, 13 May 2021

Will Zalatoris not shying away from Masters stage

Field Level Media
11 Apr 2021, 12:55 GMT+10

With his slender frame and blonde locks, young Will Zalatoris looks like a fit for the top of a halfpipe, or the face of a wave instead of standing over a slick 6-footer at Augusta National.

Yet golf is where Zalatoris finds balance, with his iron play in particular, and he has featured the entire package this week at the Masters.

The 24-year-old out of Texas forced his way onto the PGA Tour, pushed himself into this weekend's Masters and has thrust himself toward the top of the leaderboard in the first major of 2021, giving him a chance at destiny Sunday.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama grabbed a four-shot lead at 11-under 205 through three rounds of the Masters. Zalatoris shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday and is at 7 under for the tournament, tied for second with Xander Schauffele, Australia's Marc Leishman and England's Justin Rose, who was the leader after each of the first two rounds. Rose had his own four-shot lead after the opening round.

Zalatoris appears to be biding his time. The Wake Forest product is not making a charge necessarily, but he is not falling off the pace either in his third career major.

"Yeah, I mean, I thought I might have been a little bit more nervous than I was, to be honest," Zalatoris said about playing with Rose in the final group Saturday. "I think it's just something that I've wanted to be here my entire career, and like I said, I'm not going to shy away from it.

"I've wanted to do this. I've wanted to put on a green jacket my entire career, and I've got a good opportunity to do it. So let's go do it."

The kid isn't waiting for his time to come, he is rushing toward it.

According to DraftKings, Zalatoris is 1000 to put on that green jacket late Sunday evening at the famed 18th green. Those odds are tied for third favorite with Rose, while Schauffele (450) is second favorite. Matsuyama (-120) is favored to close out the victory.

If he follows his pattern, Zalatoris is going to win his first PGA Tour event one day and his first major on his terms. That major title might not come Sunday, but when it does it will be because he went on the attack without any fear.

In 2019, Zalatoris was scrambling on Mondays to qualify for Korn Ferry Tour events, doing well enough to secure full-time status on the developmental tour in 2020. His early Korn Ferry success earned him a spot at last year's U.S. Open where he finished tied for sixth place. That top-10 finish earned him a spot in this weekend's Masters.

"I've been playing some great golf, so I've been preaching it pretty hard about how lucky I am to be here considering the last 17 months," he said. "... It's nice to see that I've been playing well in the majors so far in my career."

He also did well enough with PGA Tour qualifiers and sponsor's exemptions in 2020 that he was able to wiggle through a crack in eligibility status. Zalatoris is not exactly a full-time member of the PGA Tour yet but is eligible for unlimited sponsor's exemptions through special temporary membership status.

How it works, essentially, is that Zalatoris earned as many unofficial FedEx Cup points last season to match the 150th player on the official list. He was given his temporary status in November. If his unofficial points this year match or exceed the 125th player on the list, full-time membership is his.

He is golf's version of buying low and selling high. Zalatoris' stock is on the rise indeed.

Catching Matsuyama, though, will not be easy. Winless worldwide since 2017, the runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Open looks to be on a mission, especially after an eagle 3 at No. 15 moved him into the lead Saturday and a birdie at No. 16 got him to double digits under par.

"The last three years, there's been different probably reasons why I haven't been able to win," Matsuyama said through an interpreter. "But this year, starting early in the year, I have a coach with me now from Japan. It's been a great help, a great benefit.

"Things that I was feeling in my swing, I could talk to him about that, and he always gives me good feedback. He has a good eye. It's like having a mirror for my swing, and it's been a great help for me. We worked hard, and hopefully now it's all starting to come together."

Zalatoris will probably have his own ebbs and flows in the future, but for now he is taking advantage of the opportunities he has made for himself.

"Oh, man, everything's been so new and shiny," Zalatoris said. "Over the past year and a half, I've had to make a lot of putts on 18 to make a cut or get into a playoff, or a Monday qualifier, and the fact that I've done that very consistently over the past year and a half, I think is what's really led me to be tied for second going into Sunday at the Masters."

--Field Level Media

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