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FedEx St. Jude Championship 2022: Will Zalatoris Tops Sepp Straka in Wild Playoff

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVAugust 14, 2022

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It took three drama-filled playoff holes at the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship, but Will Zalatoris is finally a winner on the PGA Tour.

He and the other top 70 golfers from TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, advance to the next round of the FedEx Cup playoffs at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware. However, that was surely far from his mind as he went shot for shot with Sepp Straka down the stretch and finally came out on top after so many narrow misses.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

Breaking through on a big stage ๐Ÿ† <a href="https://twitter.com/WillZalatoris?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WillZalatoris</a> claims his first title <a href="https://twitter.com/FedExChamp?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FedExChamp</a> to ascend to No. 1 in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FedExCup?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FedExCup</a> Playoffs! <a href="https://t.co/g7OTsmv4Lm">pic.twitter.com/g7OTsmv4Lm</a>

Zalatoris, who shot a four-under 66 in Sunday's final round to bring his tournament total to 15 under, drained a 10-foot par putt on the 18th that was just shorter than the one he missed that could have forced a playoff at the U.S. Open.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

"What are they gonna say now?!" <a href="https://t.co/4vZcI82Art">pic.twitter.com/4vZcI82Art</a>

The playoff became a story of surviving poor shots, as Zalatoris scrambled to save par following a brutal drive on the second hole, only for Straka to do the same after he considered taking his shoes off and hitting from the water's edge before taking a penalty.

Things took another turn on the par-three third playoff hole when Zalatoris' tee shot wedged itself between rocks and the grass, and Straka's found the water. The eventual victor took a drop instead of risking catching the rocks with his club face and making things worse, and it proved to be the right call when he won with an up-and-down from the drop zone.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

Golf is a game of inches. <a href="https://t.co/9ncFqNNdWX">pic.twitter.com/9ncFqNNdWX</a>

Stephen Watson @SWatsonTV

This playoff is wild. Pressure does incredible things in this beautifully maddening sport of golf.

Jeremy White @JeremyWGR

Hell yeah Zalatoris. Been watching him come so close all year long and that W feels right.

Even before the wild playoff, there was no shortage of storylines coming into the final round, with J.J. Spaun one stroke ahead of Straka and two strokes ahead of Zalatoris, Cameron Smith and Trey Mullinax.

Spaun and Straka were both first-time PGA Tour winners this year, and a win for either would have been enough to clinch a spot in the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship.

Then there was Zalatoris, who was trying to join them as first-time winners. He had come close on the sport's biggest stages with a playoff loss at the PGA Championship, a second-place finish at the U.S. Open and a top-10 showing at the Masters earlier this year.

What's more, Smith was arguably the biggest story of the entire tournament. There is speculation he will be joining LIV Golf, and there was an opportunity for him to become No. 1 in the world with a victory at TPC Southwind following victories at The Players Championship and The Open Championship this year.

"That's been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that top spot," he told reporters. "Try and chase it down."

Yet chasing it down became much more difficult before he even teed off, as he was given a two-stroke penalty for "improper placement of the ball" upon review of his third round and fell four shots back:

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

Cameron Smith has been penalized two strokes for improper placement of the ball in the penalty area in Round 3.<br><br>He now begins the final round trailing by four.<br><br>More on the penalty โฌ‡๏ธ <a href="https://t.co/a1wr2Bqv9R">pic.twitter.com/a1wr2Bqv9R</a>

That, along with just two birdies from Smith on his way to an even-par 70, opened one more window for challengers to make a run up the leaderboard. It appeared as if Denny McCarthy would be the one to seize the opportunity in the early going with four birdies on the first seven holes to move to 12 under.

One of the birdies even came after he hit the ball into a chair's cup holder:

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

And still made birdie ๐Ÿคฏ <a href="https://t.co/RXLVEkAu1H">pic.twitter.com/RXLVEkAu1H</a>

However, McCarthy dropped from contention by shooting four over on the final 11 holes. Adam Scott also got as low as 12 under and was within one stroke of the lead, but his chances realistically ended when his tee shot on the 18th found the water to set up a closing bogey.

Elsewhere, Collin Morikawa missed a short birdie putt on the 17th also bogeyed the 18th to end a run that saw him climb as low as 12 under, while Lucas Glover's bogey on the final hole dropped him to 12 under after he briefly tied for the lead with birdies on the 16th and 17th.

The theme of challengers coming up just short continued when Tony Finau's bid for a third consecutive tournament win after victories at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic ended without enough birdies (three) to go with 14 pars.

Throw in Brian Harman bogeying two of the final five holes after tying the lead with a birdie on No. 13, Spaun free-falling down the leaderboard with an eight-over 78, and Mullinax bogeying three of the last four holes, and it was a two-man race to the title between Zalatoris and Straka.

Zalatoris caught the first major break when his drive on the par-five 16th kicked out from the trees and into the fairway to set up a birdie.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

The bounce of the week! ๐Ÿ˜ฒ<br><br>The lucky break led to a birdie for <a href="https://twitter.com/WillZalatoris?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WillZalatoris</a> on the par-5 16th.<br><br>He's tied for the lead with 2 holes to play <a href="https://twitter.com/FedExChamp?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FedExChamp</a>. <a href="https://t.co/NIT9qOVDAl">pic.twitter.com/NIT9qOVDAl</a>

Straka didn't blink, though, answering with a birdie on the 16th and a difficult par save on the 17th to set up the eventual playoff.

PGA TOUR @PGATOUR

71st hole ...<br>Tied for the lead ...<br>Blocked by trees ...<br><br>What a shot by <a href="https://twitter.com/seppstraka?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SeppStraka</a> ๐Ÿ‘ <a href="https://t.co/6h0ywxouzm">pic.twitter.com/6h0ywxouzm</a>

Zalatoris, who birdied the first three holes and seemed to hold on for much of the rest of the round, also had a clutch moment on the way to the playoff with the cold-blooded putt to save par on the 18th.

It just set the stage for the memorable playoff.

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