Will Zalatoris on Tiger Woods’s Practice Round: ‘He Played Great Today’

Plagued by a bad back, too, the 27-year-old is trying to return from similar injuries sustained by the five-time Masters champion as well. 
Woods and Zalatoris played a nine-hole practice round Monday at August National.
Woods and Zalatoris played a nine-hole practice round Monday at August National. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network

Will Zalatoris has at least one thing in common with Tiger Woods: back problems.

A year ago at the Masters, Zalatoris, 27, withdrew prior to the first round due to the recurring issues that had plagued him for eight months. Two days later, he had a microdiscectomy, a surgical procedure to relieve pain and other symptoms from a herniated disc in the spine pressing on an adjacent nerve root.

Woods had the first of four of those surgeries almost 10 years ago, and he also had a spinal fusion seven years ago.

Woods and Zalatoris played a nine-hole practice round together early Monday morning on the first day of preparations at the Masters. Zalatoris marveled at the idea that Woods this week will try to make a Masters-record 24th consecutive cut in the tournament.

“It’s just everything the guy has done,” Zalatoris said after they played the back nine. “You could just sit there and analyze the same stats for his entire career and put him in five different buckets and every one of them is never going to be broken.

“He played great today. He outdrove me a couple times, so there was some chirping going on. So, you know, he looks great. He’s moving as well as he can be.

“Again, with everything he’s gone through, it’s pretty amazing to see how good he’s swinging it.”

Woods’s status this week will be of interest. He’s played just 24 holes in 2024, having withdrawn with the flu during the second round of the Genesis Invitational in February. He did not add a tournament in February as expected and has offered no public comments so far on his health.

He will be making just his eighth worldwide start since a February 2021 car crash but will be trying to make the cut at the Masters for the third consecutive year.

During their practice round, Woods and Zalatoris skipped balls across the lake at the par-3 16th.

“First two years I did it I was absolutely horrendous,’’ Zalatoris said. “One of the places I play at has an enormous lake; I did practice it a few times given how bad it was.

“Yeah, I make sure I at least get one bounce so I don’t airmail it over the back of the green. It shows you how today I did it, had one skip and went flying into the back bunker and Tiger got about six skips and would’ve almost been perfect if it didn’t hit the lip of the lake.

“So it’s fun. That’s just the tradition of this place that makes it so special.’’

As for his own game, Zalatoris tied for second at the Genesis Invitational and tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer before a lackluster event last week at the Valero Texas Open.

But he’s feeling far better than a year ago. Ranked 30th in the world, he was a contender in two majors in 2022 and then won his first event in Memphis before a back injury.

“I feel great’’ he said. “This is the best I’ve felt . . .I think the best way to put it is I kept thinking I was at 100% as I’ve come back, and each month I’ve picked up a little more speed, had a little more endurance.

“So I think in reality, I kept thinking that I was at kind of what was going to be my 100%, and I think that’s part of the patience game. I got to the point where I feel like I can push harder in the gym and practice, but you just have to be patient. I am still only 27. I have a long career ahead of me and need to look at the long-term rather than the short-term.’’

Bob Harig


Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.