Masters rookie wonders Will Zalatoris and Robert MacIntyre throw Ryder Cup selection wide open
So much for the old Augusta adage that supposedly demands Masters debutants quietly go learn the idiosyncrasies of the National, while allowing the experienced campaigners to hog the Sunday spotlight Between them, and to varying degrees, two 24-year-olds in Will Zalatoris and Bob MacIntyre played such active roles at the season’s first major that they not only underlined their credentials as future green-jacketeers but more immediately to appear in this year’s Ryder Cup. Zalatoris was the obvious rookie star of the show, whittling away Hideki Matsuyama’s six-shot lead with seven to play, down to one in the increasingly nervy climax. The American’s reaction said it all. His outright runner-up’s position was the best finish by a first-timer at Augusta since Dan Pohl 39 years ago, but Zalatoris was trying to emulate Fuzzy Zoeller’s historic feat of three years before. “The fact that I’m frustrated that I finished second in my third major says something,” Zalatoris said. Certainly, it will scream plenty to Steve Stricker. When he was appointed United States captain in February 2019, Zalatoris was ranked 2004th in the world with nowhere to compete but the mini tours. Stricker would just about have heard of the young blond-haired Californian by dint of him winning the US Junior Amateur title in 2014 and playing on the triumphant 2017 Walker Cup team at LA Country Club, where he won all three of his matches against Great Britain and Ireland. Stricker’s ears might well have pricked up when rumours circulated of the Owen Wilson lookalike pushing the US captain, Spider Miller, into the pool at the after-party. Little wonder his nickname is “Showtime”. But then the screen went blank as far as Zalatoris was concerned. Great young amateurs come and all too often they disappear in pro prime-time, and it was not until a tie for sixth at last year’s US Open when Zalatoris earned wider recognition. By then he was a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, but because of the pandemic and the archaic PGA Tour membership rules, the feeder league to the main circuit was closed off. Zalatoris has been forced to rely on invites, but has accepted the challenge with such vigour that he arrived in Georgia on the back of five top-10s on the PGA Tour. At Sawgrass HQ, they will be scrambling to find a loophole to grant full membership so he can take his place in the FedEx Cup playoffs (he is a marketing department’s dream) but, fortunately for Stricker, he is eligible for Whistling Straits. At 23rd in the standings, Zalatoris still has some climbing to do, but if he carries on in this vein, his candidature will be irresistible. Stricker has six wild cards at his disposal and Zalatoris, up to world No 27, already looks extremely worthy. It will also help that Jordan Spieth is an advocate. The three-time major winner hurtled up to 12th in the list with his tie for third and that, on the back of his first victory in four years at the Texas Open the week before, makes Spieth basically certain of his place.
Published: 2021-04-13 05:05:54
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