JACKSON, Miss. — Will Zalatoris was one of the most engaging storylines of the PGA Tour’s 2020 super season, and the 25-year-old is keeping his name at the top of headlines and leaderboards once again to start the new Tour season.
After earning Rookie of the Year honors last season as a non-member of the Tour – the first to do so since Charles Howell III in 2001 – Zalatoris finished T-11 two weeks ago at the season-opening Fortinet Championship and fired a bogey-free 11-under 61 during Friday’s second round of the Sanderson Farms Championship to take the lead after the morning wave of play at 13 under.
Zalatoris began the round at Country Club of Jackson on the back nine with a pair of birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 and followed suit on 13, 16 and 18 to make the turn at 5 under. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, his second nine was even better. On the front, he made four consecutive birdies on Nos. 2 through 5 and closed his stellar round with two more on 8 and 9. Six of his eleven birdies were from 12 feet or further, the longest being a 26-footer on the par-3 13th.
“I think it’s funny that I get given a hard time about my putting and if you add in Augusta last year which didn’t have ShotLink I would have been a positive strokes-gained putter,” said Zalatoris after his round. “Is it the prettiest? No. But am I productive? Yes.”
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Zalatoris added that he was a little fired up watching highlights of the Ryder Cup last week, especially seeing players he grew up playing with representing Team USA in its historic 19-9 win over the Europeans at Whistling Straits.
“I’ve got asked a lot what are your goals for this year and besides winning a golf tournament I really don’t have any,” he explained.
The Wake Forest grad is in position to do just that entering the weekend, and he’s got a friendly face right behind him. His Demon Deacon teammate for three years, Cameron Young, sits T-2 at 12 under with local Mississippi talent Hayden Buckley after both shot rounds of 7-under 65. As the afternoon wave began, Aaron Wise and Stephan Jaeger sat T-4 at 10 under.
“Yeah, he’s incredibly stoic. That’s the thing with him is that you’ll never see him be a fireball or anything like that, he’s an incredibly steady player, he hits it a mile and when he drives it straight I mean it’s tough to beat him because he’s got great hands around the greens, too,” Zalatoris said of Young, who made his first PGA Tour cut this week. “We roomed a bunch together at tournaments, so it will be a lot of fun because technically we’ve never played in a tournament together so hopefully this will be our first time.”
“I mean I wanted to beat him as bad as anybody did because he was the best of all of us, especially his first year at college,” Young, 24, said of Zalatoris, “and my first qualifier I think he beat me by 40. I don’t think I’ll forget that one, but hopefully I will keep it a little closer this time.”
Now a Florida resident after growing up near Tupelo, Mississippi, the 25-year-old Buckley had the crowd on his side on Friday and he took full advantage.
“You want to entertain, I know at the end of the day we are entertainers and there’s so many people that came out to watch so it’s nice to give them something to cheer for,” said Buckley. “You can probably hear it from all over the course, I know I had a couple guys that they were yelling a little too loud, but it’s just so nice to see so many people supporting me and see what I’ve been doing for the last few years.
“I moved away,” continued Buckley. “I went off to college in Missouri and didn’t see a lot of friends, I kind of lost connection with a lot of friends and some family and it’s nice to see all my hard work paying off and for them to see it pay off as well.”