Will Zalatoris is a PGA Tour winner.
The 25-year-old Californian outdueled Sepp Straka, winning the FedEx St. Jude Championship on a dramatic three-hole playoff Sunday to kick off the FedExCup Playoffs.
It’s the third playoff Zalatoris has been involved with this season and his first win on Tour. Last year’s tournament, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, also went to a playoff and was won by Abraham Ancer.
"It's kind of hard to say 'about time' when it's your second year on Tour," Zalatoris said, "but about time."
Zalatoris found himself in a precarious position after his tee shot on the third playoff hole, the par-3 No. 11. His drive ping-ponged atop the retaining wall multiple times, inches from falling into the water hazard, before the ball settled between the wall and the rough.
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Straka responded with a tee shot that found the pond. After a drop, the Austrian flew the green and landed in the bunker. Zalatoris, after an extended deliberation, elected to take a drop from the same spot. His subsequent shot, from 94 yards, left him with a 7-foot putt that he drilled, setting off a wild celebration.
Zalatoris, asked on the television broadcast shortly after making the putt whether he was relieved, said no.
“Not yet,” he said. “Adrenaline’s still pumping. It was a grind. Looking forward to some celebrations tonight.”
Zalatoris, who shot 4 under Sunday, finished 15 under for the tournament. He fended off a crowded leaderboard to claim victory at TPC Southwind in Memphis, the culmination of a meteoric start to his career that has included runner-up finishes in three of the four majors since joining the Tour last season.
In doing so, Zalatoris jumped to the top spot in the FedExCup standings entering next week’s BMW Championship – the second leg of the three-event FedExCup Playoffs – at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware. He also claimed $2.7 million in winnings.
Straka acknowledged the strangeness of the final hole.
"Yeah, it was pretty crazy," Straka said. "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 for a playoff event and yeah, it can get a little crazy."
Zalatoris began Sunday’s round two strokes behind leader J.J. Spaun, one behind Straka and tied with Cameron Smith and Trey Mullinax. But Zalatoris came out of the gate hot with three consecutive birdies.
Perhaps Zalatoris' most impressive recovery, though, came on the second playoff hole at No. 18. His tee shot caromed off the cart path and landed in a bed of pine needles in the trees, narrowly staying in bounds. Straka’s drive landed near a water hazard, creating such an awkward angle that he took a drop and a one-stroke penalty. Zalatoris punched out and onto the fairway, followed that with an approach that left him with a 13-foot, 8-inch putt that he made to save par. Straka also made par to force a third playoff hole.
"That was pretty stressful," Straka. "The 18th hole is brutal, that tee shot is really hard on 18. And yeah, 11, you know, you can hit a good shot in there and make birdie, but hit a bad shot obviously and you get penalized for it."
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Will Zalatoris wins wild playoff to claim FedEx St. Jude Championship