Larger, longer Will Zalatoris in contention again for first PGA Tour title after 65 at Farmers Insurance Open

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SAN DIEGO – Will Zalatoris is going to win one day on the PGA Tour.

Ask his peers. Golf analysts, too. And just watch him play.

Well, that one day could come Saturday.

A larger, longer Zalatoris is once again in position to win his first Tour title following a solid 7-under 65 Friday in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, a round that left him atop the leaderboard alongside Jason Day.

Zalatoris finished one shot back in last year’s Masters and has been in contention numerous times elsewhere. But the No. 36-ranked player in the world, who has one Korn Ferry Tour win under his belt, isn’t about to put any extra pressure on himself to capture that maiden victory despite coming so close.

“I still feel kind of like the underdog,” Zalatoris said after his successful tour around the South Course at Torrey Pines on another Chamber of Commerce day of plenty of sunshine, soft breezes and warm temperatures by the Pacific.

“My time will come and hopefully it’s tomorrow.”

Zalatoris, starting the day six shots behind the leaders, pitched in for eagle from 40 yards on the second hole – his third big bird of the week – and finally caught the leaders with a birdie on the 14th. But his 65 could have been much lower.

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“Oh, God, yeah,” Zalatoris said when asked if he left shots out there.

Zalatoris missed a 2-footer for birdie on the 13th, a 4-footer for birdie on the 17th and didn’t make birdie on the par-5 18th despite having just 235 yards from the middle of the fairway into the green for his second shot.

“There’s a lot of Poa annua out here. You’ve got putts that you’ve got to play outside the hole from distances you’re not really used to playing them out there,” Zalatoris said. “Out here you can get a little wobble here or there. I think really the two that I left out there today I just didn’t commit to playing outside the hole. So I think that’s something that definitely tomorrow, just commit to it and hey, if it bounces in, it bounces in; if it bounces out, it bounces out.”

Zalatoris knows getting that first PGA Tour title won’t be easy, especially considering the top of the leaderboard. Day won the 2015 PGA and has 12 PGA Tour titles, including wins in the 2015 and 2018 Farmers.

World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who has six PGA Tour titles, including his first in the 2017 Farmers and the 2021 U.S. Open on the South Course, is one shot back after a 72. And two back is Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion and a winner of 14 Tour titles. If Thomas, who shot 73, were to win, he would join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Johnny Miller as the only players in the past 85 years to win 15 PGA Tour titles before turning 29.

Joining Zalatoris and Day in the final group will be Aaron Rai, a two-time winner on the DP World Tour. Rai shot 68 to move to 13 under.

Rahm will be joined by Sungjae Im (68) and Cameron Tringale (72) in the second-to-last group off. Tringale will try to win his first PGA Tour title in 318 starts. He is the all-time money leader ($15.6 million) on the PGA Tour among those who have not won.

Day, a former world No. 1, has battled various injuries for years and last won in the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship. But he said he’s healthy and his putting – his bread-and-butter – is back.

“It’s nice to be able to know that I’ve (won) on the golf course twice, not only in regulation but also in playoffs, but tomorrow’s a new day and you don’t know what’s going to come,” Day said. “I’ve just got to kind of get good rest tonight, get into it tomorrow and just be patient.

“I’ve been saying that I’ve been close for a long time, that’s what I’ve felt like I’ve been saying. It’s been a long two‑and‑a‑bit years not really being in contention or having a good shot at winning a tournament, but I think overall I’m pretty pleased with how things are progressing swing‑wise, body‑wise.

“If I can go out there and just play within myself, then I should be able to give myself the opportunities. I just can’t get inside my head too much; I’ve just got to go out there and be patient.”

That’s Zalatoris’ plan of attack, as well. While his iron play was spot on as usual, his driver was a huge weapon. Zalatoris, as thin as a 1-iron, it has been written, put on 15 pounds with a concentrated effort to gain weight – “I’ve never weighed 172 in my life,” he said – and has gone from a 44.5-inch shaft in his driver to one a shade under 46 inches.

He’s always wanted to put on weight, as much for stamina as for strength. And he’s upped his power game with a new driver.

“I had it the Tuesday (last week) before Palm Springs and put it immediately in the bag,” said Zalatoris, who contended and tied for sixth in the American Express before heading to San Diego. “It’s obviously been great, and I think today was the best driving day I’ve had maybe ever.

“(I’ve gained) 12 yards just on TrackMan, kind of hit a stock ball on the range, but get some adrenaline going or maybe get after one, I’ve clocked it up to 127 (mph swing speed) with 186 ball speed. A place around here, that’s huge.

“We’ve seen what Bryson (DeChambeau) has done; you won’t be seeing me at 220 anytime soon, but definitely the added distance has really paid dividends.”