AUGUSTA, GA. — Will Zalatoris on Friday played well enough to deserve an exclamation point, and remained anonymous enough to require a question mark.
He shot a second-round 68 to move into a tie for second at the Masters, one shot behind Justin Rose. As the leaderboard became packed with experience and fame, Zalatoris, 24, continued his rise from obscurity.
Since last September, he tied for sixth at the U.S. Open and finished in the top 10 in four other PGA Tour events. This year, he has finished in a tie for 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 21st at the Players Championship.
The Masters was the source of his fondest golf memories even before he created some for himself this week. He qualified for this year's tourney by rising to No. 45 in the World Golf Rankings, and told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had to retrieve his Masters invitation from his spam folder.
"I came here in 2005,'' he said. "I came on Friday. Watched Tiger make a 40-footer on the sixth hole, and that was the only shot I saw him hit until I turned professional.
"I think the fact that it's here obviously makes it a little more special. But you know, every single hole, I can think of some person who did something on every single hole ... Just thinking back to the history is something I really try to take in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.''
On Masters Sunday in 2005, Zalatoris, a San Francisco native, was at his favorite Italian restaurant in the Bay Area when Woods chipped in on the 16th hole.
"Normally the restaurant was pretty quiet, and when that ball dropped, it got pretty loud," Zalatoris said. "That's probably the memory that I knew, really realizing how special the Masters is.''
He grew up with the children of golfer Lanny Wadkins and relied on Wadkins' course knowledge on the par-3 No. 12, which is known for its swirling winds.
"Lanny has been a great sounding board throughout my entire career,'' Zalatoris said. "There's little things he may not even remember telling me, how the wind affects a shot if it's into the wind downwind on 12. But I think he told me that when I was 14, and I still remember it. There's still little things like that. I can't think of that in any other event.''
After moving to Texas, Zalatoris befriended Jordan Spieth when they played junior golf in the Dallas area. He has told Spieth they would make an ideal Ryder Cup team, with Zalatoris' ball-striking and Spieth's short game.
With Spieth one shot behind Zalatoris, they could wind up paired on Sunday.
Zalatoris is also friends with Tony Romo, the former Cowboys quarterback and an avid golfer, and called Romo an ideal mentor.
When COVID-19 hit last year, Zalatoris played a massive amount of golf, carrying his own bag.
Golf is good for social distancing.
So is averaging 307 yards on your drives.