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Will Zalatoris ready to contend again at Masters after uneven start to year

Amid a turbulent year, Will Zalatoris was thrown another curveball in his final tune-up before the Masters.

He caught a stomach bug at the WGC-Dell Match Play and withdrew from the event on Friday morning.

“I’ve never had anything like that,” Zalatoris said Tuesday at Augusta National. “I lost about seven pounds in a week. Feel great now.”

Zalatoris, though, has struggled to find his footing this year even before Match Play. After several runner-ups last season, including the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, he claimed his first PGA Tour win at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. But the following week at the BMW Championship, he suffered two herniated disks during a tee shot and his year was over.

Full-field tee times from the 87th Masters Tournament

The 26-year-old initially thought it’d be a 50-50 chance he plays the Masters, but he credits Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute with being a miracle worker. Working with Rose, Zalatoris discovered the root of his injury, and now, the 2021 Rookie of the Year feels everything is coming together at last.

“The genesis of (the injury) was actually bad right ankle mobility,” Zalatoris said. “Because of me not pushing off my right side soon enough and being a very kind of dynamic player with some side bend, my right hip got high and tilt back.

“We’ve been trying to get me actually to stand closer to the golf ball, so that makes me create space with the ball so I can turn more horizontal as opposed to lateral. It’s been good. It’s taken its sweet time to get the full swing to come back, but I think really the last couple weeks we finally have seen some progress.”

Ranking all 88 players in the 87th Masters Tournament field, from Scottie Scheffler to Larry Mize.

One thing that’s still a work in progress for Zalatoris is his putting. He’s ranked 136th on Tour in Stroke Gained: putting (-.168). He is perfect this season from inside 3 feet, however, he’s 201st on Tour from 4 and 5 feet.

But he’ll be trying something new on the greens of Augusta National.

“I’m changing my grip a little bit,” he said. “I’m going to putt basically with my right hand higher. Vijay [Singh] did it for a while. I know Jerry Haas, my college golf coach, actually putts this way, and the guy makes everything he looks at.

“Inspiration behind putting Claw was Webb [Simpson], so I guess I’m keeping it in the Wake Forest family.”

Coming back from injury and struggling with the flatstick, Zalatoris hasn’t found the dominant form he flashed last season. In seven starts, he has a fourth-place finish at Riviera, but only one other top-20.

Now heading into the Masters — where he placed runner-up in ’21 and T-6 last year — he feels he’s turning a corner.

“I was completely worthless at [Torrey Pines],” he said. “Then playing Bay Hill and The Players, I was still feeling better, but the game was just not there. I think now I can say I’m 100% despite having the stomach virus.”

Maybe, Zalatoris’ bumpy stretch ends with Scottie Scheffler slipping the green jacket over his shoulders.

And a post-victory celebration may be exactly what he needs to put back on the weight his stomach bug caused him to lose.

“I need a lot of burgers and beer to get it back,” he said. “It will come back soon.”