The FedEx Cup qualifiers have once again started in spectacular fashion. For the second consecutive season, the first post-season event needed additional holes. In a three-hole battle between Sepp Straka and Will Zalatoris, it was Zalatoris who emerged victorious after what can only be described as a bizarre playoff.
After trading pars on the 18th to throw extra holes, the two returned to the tee. Zalatoris lost his tee shot, and he could have easily gone out of bounds. Meanwhile, Straka found the danger – narrowly avoiding the water lining the left side of the fairway in the process. They would both end up making unconventional pars, but that’s when things would stop being normal.
With the discovery of Zalatoris’ tee shot (and stay inexplicably on) the rocks in the hurdle on the par-3 11th, it set the stage for Straka to win his second PGA Tour title of the season. Yet, in a breathtaking moment, he too found the penalty area. Straka couldn’t find the green with his third shot, and with his cumulative errors, Zalatoris’ first win was firmly within reach.
It’s almost poetic that Zalatoris’ first trip to the PGA Tour winner’s circle happened this way, because his path to his point has been as anomalous as it gets. Despite being the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, the Wake Forest product was an omission from last season’s FedEx Cup playoffs as he was not a full-time member. Since then he has added heartbreak after heartbreak, losing in the playoffs to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship and missing one at the US Open.
Inevitably, he felt it would happen again after his tee shot on the final hole of the playoffs, but the golf gods had a way of intervening. Much like Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele, the later you position yourself on Sunday, the more often the breaks – or should I say rebounds – go well.
This is especially true for Zalatoris, as it was never a question of “if” he would win on the PGA Tour, but rather “when”. His moment has finally come at TPC Southwind. With his St. Jude Championship title, he rose to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings. Now he has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Cantlay and cross the finish line at East Lake and lift the FedEx Cup crown. Rating: A+
Here’s the breakdown of the rest of the standings at the 2022 St. Jude Championship
2. Sepp Straka (-15): At the start of the week after six straight missed cuts, if you had told Straka he would have a 9 iron in his hand with a chance to win the tournament, he would have taken it in the blink of an eye. He showed incredible determination throughout the streak, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot to match Zalatoris, who was in the group ahead of him. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be, but his game shows the ungodly depth currently on the PGA Tour. It also shows that a player’s fortune can change in any given week. Rating: A+
T3. Lucas Glover: He was No. 121 at the start of the St. Jude Championship and will leave Memphis just outside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings. Without making the top 20 since the Texas Open in April, the former US Open champion played his best golf of the season at the most crucial moment. While his bogey on the 72nd hole may make dinner taste a little sour, in the grand scheme of the playoffs, it was an extremely decisive performance.
“It’s good,” Glover said. “A similar situation a few years ago and I had, you know, a good week and a half and I ended up in Atlanta. It was kind of in my head and I thought, you know, I have to just get to next week and then everyone will have a chance.” Rating: A+
T5. Tony Finau (-11): Attempting to become the first man to successfully defend a title in the FedEx Cup Qualifiers, Finau pulled out all the stops. Almost a winner in his third consecutive start, the four-time PGA Tour winner must be on the shortlist of potential players to lift the trophy at East Lake. As was the case last month, Finau’s play was solid throughout the sack and could be on the cusp of a playoff run. Rating: A
T5. Adam Scott (-11): He entered the week 77th in the FedEx Cup standings and played well in the top 70 with his top-five result. The Aussie didn’t play too often throughout the 2021-22 regular season, and the game plan proved fruitful. He should still have plenty in the tank as he looks to crack the top 30 next week at the BMW Championship before becoming a veteran international squad at the Presidents Cup in September.
“I played really badly yesterday and kind of got a decent score, and to turn it around and play solid today and give myself a chance to go through,” Scott said. “I’m happy with that. I’m going to play four rounds next week. And my golf has been pretty good, and I haven’t gotten anything out of it. I feel like even if I don’t win this event, I feel like I’m getting something out of the week so hopefully that’s good for confidence for next week and somehow have a big week and move on to East Lake .” Rating: A
T5. Jon Rahm (-11): The former world No. 1 has had a quiet season with just one win, but he may be onto something. Finishing his St. Jude championship with a round of 4 under 66, Rahm earned another top-10 result in the FedEx Cup playoffs and could be one to watch for the BMW championship. He was his normal, stable tee-to-green self around TPC Southwind, and the lack of course knowledge for Wilmington Country Club players may help his efforts on the greens versus the competition. Grade: B+
T13. Cameron Smith (-9): He was the overnight betting favorite, but before he even hit a golf ball, Smith saw his name drop from 11 cents to 9 cents. Assessed a two-stroke penalty 30 minutes before his tee time on Sunday due to an improper fall on his third round, the champion golfer of the year was immediately put behind the eighth ball. He did his best to ignore it by birdie on his first hole, but he eventually stalled. It would have been a big day for Smith; with a win, he would have climbed to No. 1 in the world and No. 1 in FedEx, and he would be the prohibitive favorite to be named player of the year. Instead, he will have to wait until next week for another opportunity to accomplish such feats. Category B
T13. Justin Thomas (-9): The 2020 winner at TPC Southwind never threatened the leaders as a poor third round was his undoing. After opening with consecutive rounds of 67, Thomas signed for a 1 of 71 on Saturday. Despite the disappointment, the former FedEx Cup champion should hold many positives in the final two weeks of the season. Capturing a top-20 spot, Thomas ranked fourth in shots gained from tee to green thanks to exquisite efforts both off the tee and around the green. If he is to experience a typical effort with his irons next week, he should have a realistic opportunity to claim his second BMW Championship. Category B-