Will Zalatoris making the most of his first Masters opportunity

Will Zalatoris is playing his way into contention as a Masters rookie.

Two years ago he couldn’t even qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour. A year ago, he was outside the top-600 in the world rankings. Now Will Zalatoris finds himself in a position that would’ve seemed unthinkable back then: a shot back at the Masters heading to the weekend.

Zalatoris, making his debut at Augusta National this week, shot a four-under round of 68 on Friday and will enter the third round tied for second with Brian Harman at six-under and trailing leader Justin Rose by only one. The 24-year-old birdied his final three holes in the second round and could become the first Masters rookie to win the Green Jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Zalatoris was one-under for his round heading to the par-three 16th, where he hit his tee shot to 10 feet and made the putt for birdie. At the 17th, he made a slippery downhill, left-to-right 11-footer for another birdie. And following a perfect drive off the 18th tee, he hit his approach shot from 132 yards to within five feet for a finishing birdie.

It’s a long way from where he was in his career just a few years ago. In 2018, Zalatoris failed to make it through Q-school on the Korn Ferry Tour. He played 2019 relying on Monday qualifiers and sponsor’s exemptions to earn his card. He won his first pro event on the KFT last July, which allowed him to qualify for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September.

He finished sixth that week in only his second career major championship appearance, a result that gave him temporary membership on the PGA Tour. He’s made the most of the opportunity, with four top-10s since then. He ranks 12th on tour this season in scoring average and fourth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Not bad for a player who was 610th in the world at the start of 2020 and outside the top 2,000 in the world to begin 2019.

“I think just enjoy it,” Zalatoris told CBS after his second round. “I’ve kind of said a lot that I’ve got a lot of gratitude. You know, 17 months ago I didn’t have status anywhere. Obviously, to be here is a childhood dream. Obviously, to be, hopefully, in the final group on Saturday is pretty cool.”

Zalatoris still isn’t a full-time member of the PGA Tour. A win at the Masters, though, will get him a five-year exemption on tour. It also comes with a Green Jacket, something Zalatoris could only dream about in the years he spent chasing any chance he could get.

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