What a way to get your first win.
Will Zalatoris forced, then survived a wild three-hole playoff on Sunday at the St. Jude Championship to secure his first win on the PGA Tour and the lead in the FedEx Cup Championship. The victory in the first of three championship playoff events gives him the inside track to the playoff’s $18 million first-place prize.
Zalatoris, 25, took the clubhouse lead at TPC Southwind in Memphis on 18 on Sunday with a 10-foot par putt to secure a 72-hole score of 15-under.
Sepp Straka followed and faced a chance to secure a win in regulation with a 20-foot birdie putt on 18. But his effort missed just high, and his successful par putt forced the sudden-death playoff with Zalatoris.
The two remained tied after parring 18 on the first playoff hole. They replayed 18 for the second playoff hole, with both players missing the fairway off the tee. Zalatoris hit his second shot off of pine needles near a boundary line and onto the fairway. He got up and down from there with a 13-foot, 8-inch to save par.
Straka, meanwhile, took a drop and a one-stroke penalty after his drive landed near a water hazard that would have forced him to stand in the water for his shot. Like Zalatoris, he saved par to force the third and final playoff hole at 11. That’s when the fireworks really started.
Zalatoris’ approach shot to the waterside green came up short. But he averted disaster by the most dramatic of margins as his ball bounced softly off a waterside wall then wedged in between the wall and the greenside rough — instead of back into the water.
Straka wasn’t as fortunate. His approach was likewise short. But his bounced back into the water.
Straka sailed the green into a bunker out of the drop zone, making what would have been a difficult decision for Zalatoris considerably easier. Instead of hitting out of this untenable lie, Zalatoris opted to take a penalty and shoot from the same drop zone as Straka.
Unlike Straka, he found the green with his shot from the drop zone and proceeded to make his bogey putt to secure his first Tour victory.
With the win, he moved up 11 places into first place in the FedEx Cup standings with two playoff events remaining. He did so after shooting a one-over 71 on Thursday that left him nine strokes behind the leader and at risk of missing the cut. But he followed up with a 63 on Friday to make the weekend before shooting 65 on Saturday and 66 on Sunday to force the playoff.
The top 70 remaining players advance to next week’s BMW Championship at Delaware’s Wilmington Country Club. The top 30 from there advance to the Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, where the winner will take home the first-place $18 million prize.