Will Zalatoris' memorable Masters debut gets even better: He's in Saturday's final pairing

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Will Zalatoris attended his first Masters Tournament in 2005. It was the second round, and Zalatoris, 8 years old at the time, managed to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods. Though he only caught one shot, it was a good one, as Woods canned a 40-foot putt.

“That was the only shot I saw him hit [in person] until I turned professional,” Zalatoris said.

Two days later, Zalatoris was back home in San Francisco and eating at his favorite Italian restaurant, Vivace. The final-round broadcast was on a nearby television, and Zalatoris vividly remembers watching Woods’ famous chip-in at No. 16 en route to victory.

“Normally the restaurant was pretty quiet, and when that ball dropped, it got pretty loud,” Zalatoris said. “That was probably the memory that I really realized how special the Masters is.”

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Now 24 and competing for the first time at Augusta National, Zalatoris has already topped those memories. By a lot. Midway through this 85th edition, the debutant has a spot in Saturday’s final pairing alongside leader Justin Rose after firing 4-under 68 Friday and moving into a tie for second at 6 under, one back of Rose.

Zalatoris carded just one bogey in Round 2 – he has just four in 36 holes – and came alive on the back nine with five birdies, including on each of his final three holes and none on par-5s. Known as one of the ball-strikers – of any age – in professional golf, Zalatoris drained a couple of long birdie bombs at Nos. 11 and 12, from 28 and 34 feet, respectively. He then knocked it within 12 feet three straight times to close – 10 feet on No. 16, 11 feet on No. 17 and finally 5 feet on No. 18.

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That last approach shot of the day, a 50-degree wedge from 134 yards out, was the one Zalatoris will remember most from Friday.

“Knowing that it would get me into the final group,” Zalatoris said. “I think that’s something that it’s a childhood dream to obviously be in the final group of a major on a weekend, especially here. … I think the fact that it’s here obviously makes it a little more special.”

Zalatoris, a self-described “student of the game,” said he can recall memorable shots from past Masters on every hole around this historic place. By the time he’s finished this week, a few of those will likely have come off of his clubface.