Zalatores will in a major distance strikes again

Zalatores started round three behind his 36-hole leader Colin Morikawa and Joel Dahmin by four strokes. He finished the day at 4-under, tying at the top of the club with Matt Fitzpatrick – the 2013 US Amateur winner at Brookline, as Zalatoris dropped five strokes shy of qualifying to play the game.

Zalatoris, 25, is the best player to date not to win the PGA TOUR title, and not because of a lack of opportunity.

The Wake Forest alum is ranked No. 13 in the FedExCup standings, with seven of the top 10 in 17 starts, including a second-place finisher, and is the highest-ranked FedExCup player without a career Tour win. It is number 14 in the official golf rankings, and is also the highest without the TOUR title.

Known as one of the best ball strikers in the game, Zalatoris clearly thrives on the challenging settings offered by the major leagues. On Saturday afternoon at The Country Club, the winds were consistent with tighter, more steady green targets.

Not upset was the first-year PGA TOUR member, who won the 2021 TOUR Rookie of the Year as a non-member. He made a birdie on holes 2, 4 and 9, matched by only one ghost on the 4th short turn. He made eight cuts on the back nine, adding a flyer at 503 yards, and 4 15 after a short iron to 5 feet. He went up and down from a bunker on the front green side at No. 18 to take the low turn for the day, better than Fitzpatrick and Denny McCarthy.

Zalatoris previously said he felt “imposter syndrome” in a PGA Championship playoff against Thomas. When he finds this stage over and over again, his self-confidence increases. Throughout his career, he has maintained his steadfast self-belief that he is working on the right things and capable of performing at the highest level.

“Having come out of the PGA[the championship]it has given me so much faith and confidence that I belong in that position,” Zalatores said. “There’s a difference in thinking about it and then being in the situation and believing in it. So I think that’s probably the biggest change.

“I’ve put myself in this position several times in my career, and obviously I have to go out and get it tomorrow.”

Zalatoris did not see immediate success in professional golf. After defaulting to Q-School, he earned enough points as a non-member of the Korn Ferry Tour (through a combination of Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions) for a special temporary membership. He failed to get his TOUR ticket through the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and after taking the most Korn Ferry Tour Points all throughout 2020, earned enough non-member FedExCup Points that fall to earn a special temporary membership of the TOUR.

He’s now a first-year TOUR member, but his game indicates confidence and maturity beyond his years. It has been won. Now he’s targeting his first tour title, his first major, against a backdrop that looks just right for his skill set.

Somewhere, this 6-year-old is nodding in approval.

“I’ve had a few long waits so far in my career,” Zalatores said. “I’m going to make sure I try to stay up a bit tonight and make sure I sleep just to kill some time. The fact that this place is brutal and that there are so many major heroes around the leaderboard… I don’t feel like I’m trying to protect it by any means.

“Step into a routine and go play some golf at twilight.”

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