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Zalatoris posts breakthrough

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Three-time major runner-up Will Zalatoris won his first US PGA Tour title on Sunday, defeating Austria’s Sepp Straka in a playoff to capture the St. Jude Championship.

Zalatoris made a seven-foot bogey putt on the third extra hole to end a season of near misses that included second-place efforts at the US Open and PGA Championship.

“We’ve been close and to see it finally pay off has been awesome,” Zalatoris said. “Looking forward to having some celebrations tonight.”

World number 14 Zalatoris, runner-up last year in his Masters debut, took a $2.7 million top prize. His eight top-10s had been the PGA’s most by a non-winner as was his prior $6.7 million in season prize money.

Zalatoris, who turns 26 on Tuesday, joined Colombian Camilo Villegas in 2008 as the only players whose first PGA victory came in a FedEx Cup playoff event.

Zalatoris fired a four-under par 66 and Straka shot 67 to leave both on 15-under 265 after 72 holes at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.

Straka, who missed six consecutive cuts entering this week, sank a six-foot par putt at 18 on the first extra hole to extend the playoff.

Teeing off at 18 again, Zalatoris went right and hit a cart path and tree while Straka’s ball clung to a sidehill above a water hazard.

Zalatoris pitched off pine straw into the fairway while Straka took off his left shoe, thought better of a wet stance and put it back on, then took a penalty drop.

Both pitched to the green to set up clutch putts, with Zalatoris curling in a par effort from just outside 13 feet and Straka topping him from half that distance.

On the third playoff hole, the 151-yard par-3 11th, Zalatoris bounced his ball atop a stone wall at a water hazard and had it wedge in a crack against grass while Straka’s ball found the water.

Straka hit his third into a greenside bunker and blasted out four feet beyond the cup.

After pondering a dangerous shot, Zalatoris took a penalty, chipped from the drop zone to seven feet and sank the bogey putt for the triumph.

“It was a grind,” Zalatoris said. “To see that decision pay off at the last was pretty cool.”

The tournament opened the FedEx Cup playoffs, three season-ending events with a winner’s prize of $18 million.

Only the top 70 players in season points advance to next week’s BMW Championship, where 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship in Atlanta are decided.

Lucas Glover, the 2009 US Open champion, shared third on 268 with fellow American Brian Harman.

Reigning US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick of England was on 269 with Spaniard Jon Rahm, Australian Adam Scott and American Collin Morikawa — all major winners — plus Americans Tony Finau, Andrew Putnam and Trey Mullinax.

British Open champion Cameron Smith, an Australian who would have become world number one with a victory, was issued a two-stroke penalty before teeing off for an improper ball placement in Saturday’s third round, dropping him four back at the start.

Smith, silent about reported plans to jump to Saudi-backed LIV Golf after the PGA playoffs, fired 70 to share 13th on 271.

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