It took an extraordinary and unpredictable three-hole playoff, but Will Zalatoris finally landed his maiden PGA Tour title by defeating Austrian Sepp Straka on Sunday to win the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tenn.
Zalatoris’ victory in the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs gave him 2,000 Cup points and pushed him into first on the leaderboard, ahead of Scottie Scheffler, with two tournaments to go.
After both players made difficult par saves on their second playoff hole, they headed to TPC Southwind’s par-3 11th, where a water hazard lies in front of the green. Zalatoris’ tee shot landed short, bounced side to side and eventually came to rest on the brick facade separating land and water.
But Straka hit an even poorer tee shot, glancing off a grass berm and into the water. He had to take a drop, landed his next shot in a bunker and finally hit the green on his fourth shot.
That meant Zalatoris, ranked No. 14 in the world entering the week, didn’t need to swing from the bricks. He took a penalty stroke, went to the drop area, landed his third shot about 8 feet from the hole and saved bogey to beat Straka.
“It was a grind,” Zalatoris said through tears on the NBC broadcast. “This week I didn’t have my best stuff on Thursday and just kept telling (caddie Joel Stock), just keep waiting till the weekend. To kind of see that decision pay off at the last is pretty cool.”
Zalatoris, who turns 26 Tuesday, is best known for several close misses at major championships early in his career. He finished second at the 2021 Masters before he was technically a full PGA Tour member. This year, he finished second at the PGA Championship by losing to Justin Thomas in a playoff and tied for second at the U.S. Open.
Zalatoris is also known as a shaky putter from short distances, but he rolled in a 10-foot par putt at the par-4 18th hole to cap off a 4-under 66 and head to the clubhouse at 15-under 265. With Straka one hole behind him on the course and Zalatoris missing the fairway off the tee, it was a must-have par save.
Straka missed a long birdie putt to win the tournament in regulation and settled for a 3-under 67 to tie Zalatoris at 15 under. They finished three shots ahead of Lucas Glover (66 Sunday) and Brian Harman (67).
Both Zalatoris and Straka parred the 18th for the first playoff hole and returned to the tee to play it again. Zalatoris missed far right while Straka’s shot barely avoided water to the left and settled in the rough.
Zalatoris laid up into the fairway, while Straka briefly considered playing the shot while standing in the water before electing to take a drop and a penalty stroke. His third shot stuck about 6 feet from the pin.
Zalatoris’ third shot also found the green and he made a longer par save. Straka followed with his putt to keep the playoff going.
Straka was seeking his second PGA Tour title after winning the Honda Classic in February.
“This course is where every shot you hit you’re on the edge of your seat. Add the nerves of competing for a tournament to that, especially a playoff event,” Straka said. “It can get a little crazy.”
Zalatoris birdied his first three holes and finished his round with five birdies and one bogey. Straka caught up to him at 14 under with birdies at Nos. 10 and 12 before they each added one more birdie down the stretch.
Only the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings will move on to next week’s BMW Championship in Wilmington, Del. Glover rang up four of his seven birdies on the back nine to make a late charge and ensure his spot in Wilmington; with his T3 finish, he’s projected to move from No. 121 to No. 34 in the standings.
“It’s nice,” Glover said. “Kind of similar situation a couple years ago and had, you know, one and a half good weeks and ended up in (the Tour Championship). That was kind of in the back of my head and thought, you know, just got to get to the next week and then everybody’s got a shot.”
A large tie for fifth at 11 under included Adam Scott of Australia (66), Jon Rahm of Spain (66), Matt Fitzpatrick of England (68), Collin Morikawa (67), Tony Finau (68), Andrew Putnam (68) and Trey Mullinax (70). Scott (77th to 45th), Putnam (87th to 47th) and Mullinax (70th to 40th) played their ways into the BMW.
Those on the wrong side of the line include India’s Anirban Lahiri (63rd to 71st after missing the cut) and Brendon Todd (68th to 74th after finishing in 67th place).
–Field Level Media