Unlikely Masters duo Zalatoris and Harman on Rose's heels

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman barely qualified for the Masters last week. Now they are on the brink of leading it.

The unheralded Americans made late charges Friday to share second place on six-under par 138 after 36 holes at Augusta National, one stroke behind leader Justin Rose of England.

Zalatoris birdied the last three holes to shoot four-under 68. Harman birdied the last two to shoot 69.

Zalatoris, 24, could become the first player to win in his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

"I could have shot 80-80 and been happy to be here. It's something I've wanted to do my entire life," Zalatoris said. "It's nice to be playing well. It's a bonus."

Harman, 34, grew up in nearby Savannah, Georgia, and could follow Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir as a left-handed Masters champion.

"Getting to play this place as a kid was always something in the back of my mind. You always want to do well at Augusta," Harman said.

"Watching Phil win his first one is probably my fondest memory, being a left-handed guy."

Both players received invitations to the year's first major championship only by cracking the top-50 in last week's world golf rankings -- 45th for Zalatoris and 49th for Harman.

For Zalatoris, it was the completion of a strange journey to the Masters that involved the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Without Covid, I may not be here," Zalatoris said. "I mean, maybe I would have earned it. But still, it's a very wild year and a half to look back on."

Zalatoris had put himself among last year's top-10 on a US developmental tour. Because of the pandemic, the US Open did away with qualifying for 2020 and invited the top 10 off the secondary circuit, including Zalatoris, who shared sixth at Winged Foot.

The US PGA Tour gave Zalatoris special temporary membership and he was able to jump up the rankings to make the final cutoff to reach the Masters.

"I've been playing with house money," he said. "It's pretty special."

When Zalatoris was eight, he watched Tiger Woods on the Friday of his 2005 Masters victory and dreamed of his own amazing feats at Amen Corner.

"I wanted to be here my entire life. I'm excited to be here. There's no reason to feel intimidated now. I made it," Zalatoris said.

"The job is not done by any means, but I think standing on the first tee and hearing your name called, that's something that every kid dreams of.

"The fact I wanted to be here my entire life actually almost frees me up."

Harman is just pleased to be back.

"Three weeks ago, I didn't expect to be playing in the Masters," he said. "So after a couple good days, to be in contention is just icing on the cake for me.

"Whenever you look up on the leaderboard and you see your name up there pretty high at Augusta, it's hard not to get nervous. I was nervous."