MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — JJ Spaun did just enough in the end to fashion a 2-under 68 and hold his one-shot lead Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship with a household name lurking.
The stake for Cameron Smith is the world No. 1.
Already a banner year with his first major at the British Open, and under intense scrutiny for reports that he was heading to Saudi-funded LIV Golf, Smith punched his final hole for a 67. left two shots behind and fully aware of a win. moves him to world No. 1.
“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try and get to that top spot,” Smith said. “Try to drive him away.”
The chase will begin in a traffic jam.
Spaun birdied two putts on the par-5 16th and birdied an 18-footer on the next hole to take the 54-hole lead with a 13-under 197.
Sepp Straka was there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on 18 for a 68 that left him one shot behind. The two are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a FedEx Cup playoff win carries even more weight — $2.7 million for the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the final. of the FedEx Cup.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world and in the FedEx Cup since March, missed the cut. That clears the way for Smith, whose three wins this year include the Players Championship, to reach No. 1 should he win.
Will Zalatoris is just as hungry, for different reasons. Zalatoris has been a tough customer at the majors, losing in the PGA Championship playoffs and finishing one at the US Open. He is world No. 14. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.
Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancée wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.
“I told him, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when he gets there,'” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddy, Joel Stock, read the putts together in their official second round. Zalatoris fired a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.
He was also two behind, with Trey Mullinax (66).
As for the hunt for the next playoff event, consider Tyler Duncan. He’s No. 118 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 will advance to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware. Duncan had a 67 and was tied for sixth. He was three behind, and even if he doesn’t win, he can move on if he holds his position.
It won’t be easy with so many players in the mix – 16 players separated by four shots. This group includes Sam Burns and Tony Finau. A winner in his last two starts, Finau ended his 11-game streak at 68 or less. He bogeyed on the last hole gave him a 69, leaving him four behind.
Nobody stands out like Smith, for so many reasons. Not only is this his first start since being presented at St. Andrews as ‘champion golfer of the year’, the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday that he has signed with LIV and will join the defectors at the exterior of Boston after the end of the Tour Championship.
Smith staunchly refused to talk about it, only to say he was only thinking about the FedEx Cup.
“I’m a man of my word and whenever you need to know anything, I’ll be the one to say it,” Smith said Tuesday. That was shortly before a California federal judge denied the request of three LIV golfers to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Distractions don’t seem to be a problem, and there’s plenty of them.
“There have definitely been a few more, but for me, I just try to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is hit good golf shots and birdie.
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