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Masters 2024: Will Zalatoris is back at Augusta, healthy and humbled

Masters 2024

J.D. Cuban

April 08, 2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Will Zalatoris remembers well the worst shot of his Masters career. It came last year, just moments before he was to tee off for his opening round. It was a 7-iron. The effects lingered for seven months.

As Zalatoris was warming up that Thursday, he felt a jarring in his back. “I knew exactly what it was with the two [herniated] disks. I started feeling the symptoms go down my legs,” Zalatoris recalled. “I knew that I was probably going to be out for a very long time, so my mindset even hopping on the plane to go home I knew I was going to be watching a lot of golf coming up.”

A runner-up in his Masters debut in 2021, Zalatoris withdrew from the event and flew home. A day later he had an MRI, and the day after that, he underwent microdiscectomy surgery. He watched the final round on television.

In his return to Augusta National, Zalatoris began his preparation for the 2024 Masters on Monday with a nine-hole practice round alongside a guy who knows about back trouble. That would be five-time champion Tiger Woods, who now is a kindred spirit, sharing the same back surgeon and rehab experiences. The two were first off on the 10th tee.

Zalatoris made his competitive comeback at Woods’ Hero World Challenge in December, and he has shown signs of immense progress early this season with a T-2 finish at the Genesis Invitational. (Woods also hosts that event.) He followed up with a T-4 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so results have been encouraging.

Woods has been instrumental in his return, acting as a sounding board since Zalatoris appeared at the Nexus Cup in September, an amateur team event that Woods hosted in New York.

“I think with the success I had had in majors and how close I've been and how driven I've been to get it and then having a setback … having the exact same injury, it's funny,” Zalatoris, ranked 31st in the world, said. It's not so much the answers that he's [given] or the questions that I've asked and him giving the answers, it's been more the thought-provoking questions that he's given to me has really been the stuff that's kind of got me back to where I am now.”


Zalatoris walks with Tiger Woods over the Hogan Bridge at the 12th hole during their Monday practice round at Augusta National. (Photo by Ben Walton)

Zalatoris, 27, posted six top-10s in his first eight major starts, including three runner-up finishes. He first encountered back problems at the 2022 BMW Championship after he won his first PGA Tour title the week prior at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, but he opted at that time not have surgery.

“I wanted it tough out but knew there was … I had been obviously battling it for a while,” he said. “I kind of kept things pretty under wraps in terms of even talking to my team about it. My team thought I was almost just more frustrated with my game, and in reality, I was more frustrated with my body and the limitations that I had.”

Those limitations have lingered, though he hasn't been totally aware of it. He comes into his third Masters feeling better than at any time since the surgery. “I think the best way to put it is I kept thinking I was at 100 percent as I've come back, and each month I've picked up a little more speed, had a little more endurance.”

During his nine-hole tour around Augusta National with Woods, Zalatoris picked up a few pointers—“a couple of little things around the course”—though he was reluctant to share what those were beyond confirming strategy.

He tried to not ask too many questions. He just wanted to appreciate watching the 15-time major winner, who is looking to extend his cut streak to a record 24 straight. Woods is scheduled to make just his second start of the 2024 season after withdrawing early in the second round of the Genesis Invitational.

“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 [his records] is never going to be broken,” Zalatoris said. “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.”

Zalatoris is doing pretty well again, too.