British Open champion Cameron Smith has spent all week ignoring queries about reports he will be the latest to leave the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf. His only concern was try to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Now there’s another perk at stake: No. 1 in the world.
Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies for a 2-under 68 to main a one-shot lead over Sepp Straka, and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, Smith is who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
He birdied his last hole for a 67, leaving him among those two shots out of the lead and fully aware that a win takes him to No. 1 in the world.
“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that top spot,” Smith said. “Try and chase it down.”
A week that began with a federal judge delivering a blow to LIV Golf by denying the request from three of its players to be part of the postseason could very well end with a new No. 1 that appears headed for the rival series.
Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for the Aussie, and there is no shortage of them.
“There’s definitely been a few more, but for me, I’m just trying to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is to hit good golf shots and make birdies.”
Spaun had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole to claim the 54-hole lead a 13-under 197. Straka was right there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on the 18th for a 68 that left him one shot behind.
Both are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a victory in a FedEx Cup playoffs even carries even more weight — $2.7 million to the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.
Zalatoris is just as hungry for a win. He has been a tough customer in the majors, losing in a playoff at the PGA Championship and finishing one back in the U.S. Open. He is No. 14 in the world. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.
Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancee wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.
“I told her, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when he get there,’” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddie, Joel Stock, read putts in their second official round together. Zalatoris shot a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.
He also was two behind, along with Trey Mullinax (66). DOUG FERGUSON, MEMPHIS, MDT/AP