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Will Zalatoris had the most money and the best world ranking of anyone without a PGA Tour victory. He changed that Sunday by winning the FedEx St. Jude Championship without making birdie in a three-hole playoff.
Heartache in two previous playoff losses this year — one in a major — turned into relief for Zalatoris after a wild finish in the TPC Southwind. It ended when he took a penalty drop from the rocks that frame the par-3 11th green and holed a 7-foot bogey putt to beat Sepp Straka.
Zalatoris moves into the top 10 in the world for the first time and takes the No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup, assuring him a reasonable shot at the $18 million prize in two weeks.
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He was clutch even if he was scrambling. It stated with a 10-foot par save on the 18th in regulation for a 4-under 66 to post at 15-under 265.
Straka, already a winner this year in the Honda Classic, narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt for the win on the 18th for a 67.
Both made par on the 18th on the first extra hole. Then, as Straka said after the loss, “It can get a little crazy” on a course like, and a closing hole like No. 18.
Zalatoris went right off the tee, off the cart path and a few feet from a boundary fence, leaving him no choice but to chip out. Straka barely cleared the water on the left, but was just inside the hazard line. He chose to take a penalty drop and hit into 7 feet. Zalatoris hit his third to just inside 15 feet and made the par. Straka matched him and they went to the 11th.
Zalatoris watched his tee shot hit the bank and then the rocks, and then the ball bounced seven times before coming to rest next to the lip of grass. He was in trouble, even if the ball was dry. But then Staka went right, took one bounce off the slope, one off the rocks and into the water.
Straka went into a back bunker and blasted out to 4 feet. Zalatoris studied his options on how to get off the rocks before wisely deciding to go to the drop zone. He hit his wedge to 7 feet and raised both arms over his head when the putt dropped.
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“To see that decision pay off was pretty cool,” Zalatoris said.
He won $2.7 million from his first PGA Tour postseason event, and it takes the sting out of playoff losses at Torrey Pines and at Southern Hills in the PGA Championship. Zalatoris also missed a 15-foot putt on the final hole of the U.S. Open that would have forced a playoff.
Straka, who played bogey-free over the final 13 holes in regulation, moves to No. 8 in the standings and is assured his first trip to the Tour Championship at East Lake.
Lucas Glover came away with a consolation prize. The former U.S. Open champion came into the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 121, knowing that only the top 70 advance to the next tournament.
Glover closed with a 66 and wound up in a tie for third. Not only was he among four players who moved into the top 70, he now is at No. 34 and has a good chance of being part of the top 30 who go to the Tour Championship to play for the $18 million first prize.
Also moving into the top 70 were Adam Scott, Andrew Putnam and Wyndham Clark, who had reason to think he had thrown away his chances when he played a four-hole stretch in 4-over par and had to save par on the 18th for a 72. He finished at No. 70 by three points.
Meanwhile, No. 1 in the world stays with Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who missed the cut and spent Sunday playing Pine Valley for the first time.
British Open champion Cameron Smith could have replaced him by winning, and he arrived at the TPC Southwind two shots out of the lead. And then he was four shots back without hitting a shot. Smith was given a two-shot penalty when rules officials realized upon review that when Smith took a penalty drop in the third round, the ball was still touching the red hazard line.
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They checked with Smith, who confirmed it was touching the line. He birdied the first hole, made only one other birdie, shot 70 and tied for 13th. Smith declined interview requests.
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