2022 St. Jude Championship leaderboard, grades: Will Zalatoris escapes bizarre playoff with first PGA Tour win

The FedEx Cup Playoffs once again began in dramatic fashion. For the second consecutive season, the first postseason event needed extra holes. In a three-hole battle between Sepp Straka and Will Zalatoris, it was Zalatoris who proved victorious after what can only be described as a bizarre playoff.

Having traded pars on the 18th to kick off extra holes, the two returned to the tee. Zalatoris lost his tee shot right, and it easily could have gone out of bounds. Meanwhile, Straka found the hazard — narrowly avoiding the water lining the left side of the fairway in the process. They both would ultimately make unconventional pars, but that is where things would stop being normal.

With Zalatoris’ tee shot finding (and inexplicably staying on) the rocks in the hazard on the par-3 11th, it set the stage for Straka to claim his second PGA Tour title of the season. Yet, in a stunning moment, he too found the penalty area. Straka was unable to find the green with his third shot, and with his compounding mistakes, Zalatoris’ maiden victory was firmly in his grasp.

It is almost poetic that Zalatoris’ first trip to the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour occurred in such a way, as his path to his point has been as abnormal as they come. While he is the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, the Wake Forest product was an omission from last season’s FedEx Cup Playoffs because he was not a full-time member. Since then, he has added heartbreak after heartbreak, losing in a playoff to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship and just missing out on one at the U.S. Open.

Inevitably, it felt this would happen again after his tee shot on the final playoff hole, but the golf gods had a way of intervening. Much like Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele, the more one positions themselves late on Sunday, the more often the breaks — or should I say bounces — go one’s way.

This is especially true of Zalatoris, as it was never a matter of “if” he would win on the PGA Tour, but rather “when.” His moment finally arrived at TPC Southwind. With his St. Jude Championship title, he has ascended to the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings. Now, he has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Cantlay and sprint through the finish line at East Lake and raise the FedEx Cup crown. Grade: A+

Here is the breakdown of the rest of the leaderboard at the 2022 St. Jude Championship

2. Sepp Straka (-15): Coming into the week off six consecutive missed cuts, if you told Straka he would have a 9-iron in hand with a chance to win the tournament, he would have taken it in a heartbeat. He showed tremendous resolve down the stretch, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot to match Zalatoris, who was in the group ahead of him. In the end, it was not meant to be, but his play displays the ungodly depth currently on the PGA Tour. It also shows that a player’s fortunes can change on any given week. Grade: A+

T3. Lucas Glover: He was No. 121 at the start of the St. Jude Championship and will be leaving Memphis just outside the top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings. Without a top-20 finish since the Texas Open in April, the former U.S. Open champion played his best golf of the season at the most crucial time. While his bogey on the 72nd hole may make dinner taste a bit sour, in the grand scheme of the postseason, it was an extremely clutch performance.

“It’s nice,” said Glover. “Kind of similar situation a couple years ago and had, you know, one-and-a-half good weeks and ended up in Atlanta. That was kind of in the back of my head and thought, you know, just got to get to the next week and then everybody’s got a shot.” Grade: A+

T5. Tony Finau (-11): Attempting to become the first man to successfully defend a title in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Finau gave it a great effort. Nearly winning in his third straight start, the four-time PGA Tour winner must be on the shortlist of potential players to raise the trophy at East Lake. As it has been for the past month, Finau’s game was strong throughout the bag and could be on the cusp of a postseason run. Grade: A

T5. Adam Scott (-11): He entered the week 77th in the FedEx Cup standings and played himself well inside the top-70 cutoff point with his top-five result. The Australian did not play all too often throughout the 2021-22 regular season, and the game plan has proven to be fruitful. He should have plenty left in the tank as he looks to climb inside the top 30 next week at the BMW Championship before serving as a veteran presence for the International Team at the Presidents Cup in September.

“I played really poorly yesterday and somehow shot a decent score, and to turn it around and play solid today and give myself a chance to go through,” said Scott. “I’m happy with that. I get to play four rounds next week. And my golf’s been pretty good, and I’ve got nothing out of it. I feel even though I’m not winning this event, I feel like I’m getting something out of the week, so hopefully that’s good for the confidence going into next week and somehow have a big week and get through to East Lake.” Grade: A

T5. Jon Rahm (-11): The former world No. 1 has had a quiet season with only one victory, but he may be onto something. Finishing his St. Jude Championship with a round of 4-under 66, Rahm captured yet another top-10 result in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and may be one to keep an eye on for the BMW Championship. He was his normal, steady self from tee to green around TPC Southwind, and the lack of course knowledge for players at Wilmington Country Club may aid his efforts on the greens relative to the competition. Grade: B+

T13. Cameron Smith (-9): He was the betting favorite overnight, but before even striking a golf ball Smith saw his name drop from 11 under to 9 under. Assessed a two-stroke penalty 30 minutes before his tee time on Sunday due to an improper drop during his third round, the Champion Golfer of the Year was immediately put behind the eight ball. He did his best to shrug it off as he made birdie on his opening hole, but he ultimately stalled. It would have been a big day for Smith; with a win, he would’ve ascended to world No. 1 and FedEx No. 1, and he’d 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. Grade: 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 back-to-back rounds of 67, Thomas signed for a 1-over 71 on Saturday. Despite the disappointment, the former FedEx Cup champion should take plenty of positives into the final two weeks of the season. Capturing a top-20 finish, Thomas ranked fourth in strokes gained tee to green courtesy of 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 capture his second BMW Championship. Grade: B-

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